With the explosion of the Internet into virtually every facet of human interaction, the parameters of defamation have widened.

Unfortunately, the opportunity for humans to write things about other people that get themselves into trouble has correspondingly increased.

The recent election was characterized by an increased interest displayed by the public, particularly younger voters, in expressing their political views online. blogs and websites sprang into existence.

Chat rooms became the forum for many a heated debate. The Internet was abuzz with the voices and concerns of all those interested in the outcome of the election.

Such enthusiasm is an encouraging sign for the future of the political process in Bermuda.

However, in the course of trolling through the myriad of political expressions, it quickly becomes apparent that a reminder of the dangers of defamation is necessary.

The law of defamation exists to provide a legal remedy to any person who feels that their reputation has been damaged as a result of something that was said or written about them by another person.

Whenever you want to publicly communicate something online about another person, particularly if it is negative in any way, it is best to begin with this test in mind: First, is the material defamatory (more about this in a moment)? Second, is the material to be seen by a lot of people? And third, can the statements be justified in fact?

If the material is true or was sincerely believed by the speaker to be true, having taken reasonable steps to verify it, the person making the statement is not guilty of defamation.

Just as a newspaper must conduct fact-checking before printing, it is recommended that the public do the same.

So how does a person know if the statements they are making are defamatory?

Opinion versus fact

If you are stating a fact about someone, ask yourself if you have checked those facts.

Would you be willing to testify under oath that the fact that you are about to divulge about someone else is true to the best of your knowledge or belief?

What steps have you taken to verify them?

Guard against taking your opinion or someone else's and presenting them as facts. Refrain also from unwarranted speculation as that can be interpreted as a statement of fact.

Whenever something is posted on Facebook, YouTube, a blog or chat room, the comments written or said are out there for the world to see.

You may think you are protected from the comments you wrote about your ex in a chat room but the law disagrees.

Likewise, the comments you made on the basis that supposedly only your friends can see will in fact be far reaching because all of their friends can see them as can their friends and so on.

Although usernames appear to offer anonymity, it is merely a temporary illusion.

The courts can order web servers to relinquish the identities of usernames.

The Internet is not the place to spread secrets or malicious gossip. Once information is divulged, it cannot be contained so one must exercise due caution.

Of course, there is far more garbage floating around the Internet than there are law suits.

The costs of litigation can preclude obtaining a legal remedy for any but the more egregious examples of defamation.

But be careful what you say and who you say it to.

Or better yet, be guided by the principle that if you cannot say something nice, then best to say nothing at all.

Stephen Notman is an associate in the litigation practice group at Mello Jones & Martin.