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Court of Appeal Decision on Political Speech on Social Media

Are your political posts on social media protected from a defamation claim?


While political speech on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are given wide latitude, it is not absolutely protected. Characterizing speech as “political” is not an automatic exemption for liability from defamation.


The Fourth Appellate District in Balla v. Hall issued a decision on January 6, 2021 affirming (in part) the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion brought by a former candidate and his campaign manager. Two members on the Solana Beach City Council sued a former candidate and his campaign manager for their emails and posts on social media accusing them of special side deals and conflicts of interest. The candidate and campaign manager argued their posts on social media and publications were political opinions about a conflict of interest and not actionable.


The Court held that characterizing speech as “political” is not exempt from liability for defamation if the speaker is calculated or has reckless disregard for the falsehood of their statements. In Balla, the campaign manager knew the city council members had no role in the selection process and did not have a side agreement with a developer. The Court rejected the campaign manager’s attempt to portray his publications as some “vague opinion” that the politicians were corrupt.


Even if online blogs and message boards have become forums for name calling, exaggeration, or strongly worded rhetoric, the Court’s decision reminds us that online speech can still be defamatory.


The published decision can be found here: https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/2021/d074804.html


The laws surrounding the anti-SLAPP statute can be complicated. Garcia Hong Law has handled anti-SLAPP motions at the trial and appellate court level. Learn more at www.garciahonglaw.com.


The information on this post is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. The information here is meant to provide general information to the public.


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