MY column this week is about defamation law and before your eyes drift off in disappointment to something more interesting, stop: you’re going nowhere.

Believe it or not, defamation reform in Scotland is not as dry as you think and if you use social media it applies to you in ways you probably don’t even realise, so you really should be paying attention.

So let’s get the boring bit out of the way first: defamation law is in the news because efforts are underway in Scotland to have it reformed. The argument is that the laws we’re using are outdated having been written before the days of smartphones and social media. English law has already been reformed to take digital technology into account, but Scotland has been lagging behind. Recently, the Scottish Law Commission produced a draft bill for legislative change, and it’s up to the Scottish Parliament now to put it all in motion.

So, now we can get on to why it all matters. If you use social media or blog online, you are now a publisher just the same as any journalist. Although defamation law doesn’t solely apply to published information – currently in Scotland if you say something defamatory to just one person it can be actionable – we commonly associate legal challenges over defamation with claims published in newspapers or on television.

Now that social media is a central part of news reporting and information sharing, there’s a considerable chance that a wrong move online could land someone in court. Let’s consider the case of Paulo Quadros, from the small Scottish community of Strathaven, who found himself being sued over comments posted on a Facebook page. He didn’t actually make the remarks, but as the moderator of the page he found himself in hot water regardless, highlighting how current laws are so out of touch that community volunteers can face the wrath of the law in the same way an experienced newspaper editor might expect to.

Now, it’s important to say that reform of defamation law doesn’t seek to protect freedom of speech by making it legal for us all to make up any old thing about people we don’t like and face no consequences. The importance of truth and evidence should be strongly impressed on us all. But it’s undeniable that aspects of the law as it stands just don’t make sense online, and can be a real hindrance when it comes to exposing bad apples.

For example, the new law would introduce a serious harm test which would stop the culture of the rich using defamation proceedings to stem the flow of truthful information that is harmful to their interests. It’s difficult to convey how serious this is because we don’t have many published examples to show, but that’s precisely the problem. Consider how many stories you haven’t read because journalists were fearful of defamation laws – not because their articles were inaccurate, but because the legal costs associated with a case can be so astronomical that the end result doesn’t even matter, the financial damage on the way may be ruinous.

And this is where it starts applying to new and social media. Online news and views, blogs and social media feeds have rocketed in popularity in recent years, and it’s not uncommon for these to break stories, reveal information and provide some really hard-hitting stuff. But many of the people behind them have received legal letters from powerful interests warning them off. The serious harm test would make it harder for wealthy individuals to take trivial matters to court just because they can afford to.

It would also bring in a single publication rule, which means there would be a time limit on the window for opening a defamation case over something said on a blog or social media account. At the moment, the current three-year cap is restarted every time a link is re-posted or content is downloaded, meaning a publisher could be under an eternal threat of action.

This all may sound technical, but welcome to the wonderful world of legislation. Regardless, it really is important that the public, that's you, recognise the new role you play in society with your social media activity. Your words potentially have considerable power, and you should treat that with great responsibility. However, it is also incumbent on us all to protect the freedom of speech that is essential to preventing the wealthiest in our society from controlling the flow of information.