A landmark court ruling means you can sue for libel if you find out people are spreading harmful rumours about you through SMS and Messenger.
Although libel has traditionally always been associated with defamatory publications on the media, magistrate Francesco Depasquale has now confirmed the law can be extended to include all sorts of defamatory comments made to third parties, even if done privately via SMS, Messenger or other communications apps.
The first person to fall foul of this legal interpretation was a certain Carl* who was today ordered to pay his ex-girlfriend Stephanie* €3,000 for having spread rumours and lies about her to her new partner and to her friends. The court heard how Carl had sent Stephanie a threatening SMS when they broke up two years ago, swearing on his children’s lives he will “destroy” her if she ever falls in love with someone else.
When she found a new partner in Charles*, Carl repeatedly messaged him to warn that Stephanie has a history of coming up with false rape accusations, which turned out to be a lie. He then privately messaged a mutual friend Lucy* to warn Stephanie had a secret demonic side to her and had hacked into Lucy’s Facebook account. He also went on Stephanie’s Facebook page and sent identical private messages to several of her friends, warning them that “the truth about Stephanie will come out someday…and you will be so shocked”. Separately, Carl sent sexual photos of Stephanie to her ex-husband, for which he is now being criminally charged with revenge porn.
Carl tried to fend off the libel charges by arguing he had sent the messages privately and had a right to defend his name from Stephanie’s alleged rape accusations. However, the court could not find any proof of the rape claims and argued the SMS and Messenger messages, although technically private, fell within the legal definition of “publication”.
“The accused sent messages to several third parties close to Stephanie with the clear intention of damaging her reputation,” magistrate Depasquale ruled. “The publication of allegations about people to third parties means there are enough elements of publication to merit the activation of a libel case.”
The magistrate said Carl’s behaviour was clearly in line with his earlier pledge to “destroy” Stephanie, and ordered he pay her €3,000 in moral damages – a unique case in Maltese legal history.
* Lovin Malta has chosen not to publish the true identities of the people