It happens to many businesses and people every day: to be unlawfully accused on the internet. Not much of an effort for the ‘cyber bully’, who nearly always remains anonymous, but often with a huge impact. Reputations can easily be ruined on the internet.
The question as to whether an accusation on the internet is permitted by law is not always quickly answered. It is a struggle between the right to freedom of speech on the one hand, and the right to protection of the honour and reputation, the privacy and the right not to be discriminated on the other hand. The court has to balance the interests involved for each separate case. However, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands has formulated in a number of rulings how courts should proceed when balancing these interests. If the statement is unlawful, a claim for deletion can be made, but also for rectification.
Websites with forums on which each internet user can participate in discussions may also be held liable for unlawful accusations. This has been provided for at law. By means of a demand letter, a lawyer can notify the website in question of the unlawful content on the website and demand that it be removed. If the website refuses to do so, in many cases not only the person who posted the accusations, but also the website itself will be liable for the damage resulting from the posting. Preliminary relief proceedings may then offer a solution here.
On platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, people share their opinions, and they do not always do this very subtly. Available case law shows that not every opinion expressed through Facebook or Twitter can be shared with impunity, but that a high degree of freedom should be assumed, so there must really be a serious problem before the court is going to be of the opinion that a certain opinion “goes beyond the boundaries of propriety”.