Defamation on social media can cost
Social media can no longer be considered a place to say whatever you like about somebody without facing any repercussions.
An increasing number of people who say nasty things about somebody else on social media are finding themselves appearing before the courts facing demands for compensation. Similarly, Internet providers are also finding they are not immune from lawsuits if they don’t remove defamatory statements.
A recent case in the ACT Supreme Court resulted in a website operator having to pay $82,000 in damages to a woman who argued her professional reputation had been seriously damaged by abusive and untrue comments carried on the website. The website hosted forums called ‘Bitching and Rants’ which carried abusive tirades and threats from unknown people against the woman after she briefly appeared in the media in her professional capacity. She asked the website operators to remove the comments but they didn’t.
The woman said the comments had injured her reputation causing her to suffer loss and damage including to her business and professional reputation.
The website operator had tried to argue the material was not defamatory because it was protected by qualified privilege and was fair comment. But ACT Supreme Court Justice John Burns found that was not the case and the matter discussed was not one of public interest.
Anneka Frayne, solicitor with Stacks Law Firm, said the ruling confirms that the owners of online forums can be vicariously liable for defamatory material posted by their users, that individual posts must be considered in the broader context of a discussion thread, and that posts on a generally humorous website cannot be defended as “trivial” when they take on a serious and aggressive tone.
Ms Frayne has handled a similar defamation case involving someone defamed on Facebook. She said people using all forms of social media should be aware that they can’t just say whatever they want on social media without consequences. Even adding to or spreading someone else’s defamatory comment can lead to legal action.
“Social media users must realise that by commenting on Facebook and replying to an original defamer’s comment they may be causing imputations to arise in relation to somebody’s reputation.
“Damaging statements about other people and their business can potentially cause a lot of distress to the individual and harm their business. If a statement made on Facebook defames an individual, then the comment maker may be forced to spend thousands of dollars defending themselves in defamation proceedings.
“People who feel they have been defamed, or find themselves on the end of a defamation writ, should seek expert legal advice,” Ms Frayne said.
For more information, please see Social media defamation: be cautious when posting or re-posting online comments, reviews and links.