Social Media Defamation Actions Soar
It’s done in a fit of anger or outrage, often late at night after more than a few drinks. But it can have serious consequences and increasingly can lead to court action that ends up costing a lot of money.
Typing nasty comments about somebody on social media whether it is via a blog, on Facebook, on Twitter or even retweeting someone else’s offensive tweet can amount to defamation under the law. Just because it is broadcast by an individual over social media and heads out into the ether rather than printed in a newspaper or broadcast by a major media organization such as a television or radio station does not mean the defamation is immune from the law.
Victims of defamatory comments on social media are increasingly seeking retribution through the law. In recent cases a NSW teenager was ordered by a court to pay $105,000 for defaming a teacher on Twitter. In Western Australia a woman had to pay $12,500 to her ex-husband after posting damaging claims about him on Facebook. A couple were hit with a $15,000 legal bill after making comments about their neighbour’s dog on a community Facebook page.
The great danger of posting nasty comments about somebody on social media is that, while the intention might have been for just a handful of people to read it, comments can be easily passed on and the message goes ‘viral’ and suddenly hundreds and thousands of people see the comment.
Even people who re-tweet defamatory comments can, under the current law of defamation, be held liable just as a major media organisation is liable for printing or broadcasting what a person said about somebody else.
A new development is people suing the authors of so-called fan fiction who feel they have been defamed. In one case a person sued over a work of fiction they thought identified them as having an affair. Movie star Scarlett Johannson tried to stop the English translation of a French novel about a man who falls in love with her lookalike, claiming it exploits her name and image and makes defamatory claims about her private life.
“It’s always a good policy to think twice before you post anything on social media,” said Nathan Luke of Stacks Law Firm. “Never post anything you wouldn’t be happy to see on the front page of a newspaper – because with the proliferation of social media that is pretty well what you are doing.”
“There are measures under the law for somebody who thinks they have been defamed to pursue restitution and they should seek legal advice,” Mr Luke said.