SINGAPORE – More than 3.5 million people or 68 percent of the population in Singapore use social media on a regular basis, at least once a week. According to The 2012 Rock Publicity Singapore Social Media Study, Singaporeans topped world rankings for having the highest average single session time of almost 38 minutes on Facebook and making close to 23 Facebook shares per month.

Ruth Lim, senior social worker with more than 20 years of experience in the disability sector, shared that there is an increasing trend for clients to give feedback or raise grievances through social media. Some of these feedback contains statements that are defamatory in nature. Users of disability services make feedback most commonly through emails. In some instances, these emails are distributed to multiple agencies, including government bodies and senior government officials. There have also been instances of clients giving feedback through Facebook wall posts.

Female social worker speaking with girl on wheelchair at a computer training center.
Ruth Lim, senior social worker with trainee with physical disability at the Infocomm Accessibility Centre
Photo: Royson Poh

While feedback in the form of traditional letters can be dealt with confidentially, communications on social media are very public. The extent of damage caused by defamatory remarks on social media can be far more severe. “Some of our clients have always been vocal,” said Lim, “However, there are now so many channels that they can make public their opinions, regardless if these opinions are justified.” states that “a statement is defamatory if it lowers the victim in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, causes the victim to be shunned or avoided, or exposes the victim to hatred, contempt or ridicule.” Civil action under the tort of defamation could arise based on three main requirements:

  1. “The statement must be defamatory in nature.
  2. The statement in question must refer to the victim.
  3. The statement in question must be published, or communicated to a third party.”

In addition, defamation is also a criminal offense under section 499 of the Penal Code. This means that the police can arrest the defamer.

Although defamation laws offer protection for a non-profit, lawsuits against the disabled is not an avenue of recourse that they are likely to pursue. “It is most unlikely that a non-profit will take legal action against those whom they serve,” said Lim, “The best thing that non-profits can do is to serve their clients with professionalism and respect.”