Social spats – the dangers of using Instagram in defamation cases
Melanie McGuirk

 The high-profile spat between Dolce and Gabbana and Diet Prada continues to create quite a stir among fashion circles – long after the now-infamous D&G ad campaign in 2018, which set this whole public affair in motion. The Italian brand has accused the self-professed ‘fashion watchdog’, Diet Prada, of fuelling a large-scale backlash to its misjudged ad, by unleashing a volley of social media content, as well as its contended “illegal publication of Stefano Gabbana’s private conversations” on Instagram.


Dolce and Gabbana alleges that by way of their heavily followed Instagram account, Diet Prada’s founders initiated a “smear campaign”, consisting of “serious and repeated defamatory conduct” aimed at harming the Italian brand to the value of €3 million in damages.


While the long-running legal battle is being played out in foreign courts, it poses some very pertinent questions that are as relevant to UK companies as they are to global brands – namely, the growing role social media is playing, not only in acting as a medium for defamatory comment, but being used as a tactic for applying pressure on the opposing side during legal proceedings.


Applying pressure in the hope of a settlement is nothing new; using such a public platform in which to do so is certainly a growing trend. Social media has popularised and accelerated many things in society – its vast reach, instant impact, and widespread adoption, makes it a perfect channel for engaging with untapped audiences and amplifying your message.


However, there’s a big disclaimer that comes with using this method to interact with people – whether you’re a business or an individual. Defamation occurs when someone causes substantial harm to the reputation of another by publicising a false statement – inappropriate or ill-considered written words, posting private correspondence in which allegations about someone else are made, sharing, forwarding or commenting on news or gossip, will all potentially be grounds for a libel case.


It’s so commonplace to use the likes of Instagram as a means of communicating with people, it becomes second nature to share material on the platform; it’s vital however that companies think twice about using social media channels as a pressure tactic in an ongoing legal case, or as a means of attacking competitors given the risk such behaviour could expose you to.


It’s essential to tread carefully when using social media and other media outlets for any form of publicity, whatever the motivation, and equally important to recognise when it’s happening to you as a business. When does a social media post cross the line? Where do the boundaries lie? Has something happened which harms your or your business’ reputation? Can you legitimately object and challenge the way in which a competitor has spoken about you on-line?  Once subject to targeted attack, the erosion of your reputation can be difficult to recover from.


As a business, it’s important to understand your rights when it comes to instances of defamation and the breach of privacy of your staff and directors, and to engage in PR and other business strategies appropriately through the right channels. Dolce and Gabbana’s bitter duel with Diet Prada has been played out in a very public way over a number of years. Businesses need to avoid airing their dirty (even if fashionable) laundry in public – it is ultimately and inherently unattractive, being publicity for all the wrong reasons. Instead, harnessing the power of social media positively to facilitate the creation or exchange of information in order to promote a business is much more likely to give that business greater longevity and credibility.



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