Defamation and Facebook

Go back 10 years and the term ‘social media’ was barely even a word in the English dictionary. Today, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and even TickTok have all become household names. 

These days everyone seems to be using social media, there are many community group pages that connect people in a neighbourhood or town and in many respects people are interacting more than ever before. It’s not uncommon to see disputes breaking out on social media, especially on community group pages. Whilst the law understands that people will never agree with each other 100% of the time, publishing negative or malicious information about others with the view of bringing them down is never okay.

When Is It Considered Defamation?

Unfortunately, lawyers are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from concerned persons who have been the subject of defamatory remarks or slander that has been published maliciously by a third person on a social media platform with the aim of diminishing the reputation or standing of the victim.

People may think that just because they publish an opinion on Facebook, sometimes in the heat of the moment or even after a few wines, that they are somehow hidden or protected behind their keyboard and able to escape the eyes of the law. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The matter of Mickle v Farley [2013] NSWDC 295 is considered Australia’s first social media defamation case. The outcome of that case was that a former student was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in damages to a schoolteacher as a result of his posting a series of defamatory posts about that teacher over Facebook and Twitter. In this case, the Judge awarded aggravated damages against the defendant as a consequence of how the defendant handled the matter upon initial contact from the plaintiff’s solicitors. In short, what you post on social media can have dire legal consequences and you need to think about this before you decide to engage in keyboard warrior behaviour.

Where a defamation claim is brought against a person the onus is on the defamed party to prove that as a result of the defendant’s publication the plaintiff has suffered damage. This is often a lot easier than you would think as people can often prove psychological damage or even loss of business or employment opportunities as a result of a vindictive publication. Of course, it is a defence to defamation action to argue that the publication containing the defamatory content was either truthful or fair comment (honest opinion).

Whilst there are defences available if you ever become the subject of a defamation action, at the end of the day this is an area of law that can easily be avoided. If you have a problem with someone consider a number of other ways to handle the issue before you decide to slander someone publicly. It will save you a potentially stressful, time consuming and expensive process with your lawyer down the track. And if you are considering slandering someone publicly, consider obtaining legal advice first!

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