Not many people are aware of the risks associated with posting on social media. Popular social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are not safe spaces to vent your thoughts. In fact in a recent defamation case, the defendant was ordered to pay a staggering amount in damages for his post on Twitter. In this blog, we explore the meaning of defamation and how it still applies in the modern age of social media.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is either an oral (called ‘slander’) or written (called ‘libel’) statement about someone which injures the reputation of that person. In general terms, to prove defamation, one must show the existence of a false statement, which the defendant may try to argue that it was an honest opinion or a fair comment. In Australia, the Defamation Act 2005 sets out the rules regarding defamation law.
Can You Defame People on Social Media?
It is absolutely possible to defame people on social media in Australia and the defamed individual may bring proceedings against you for what you said.
In order to bring a successful defamation case against an individual who posted defamatory material on social media, the following must be satisfied:
- The material must be defamatory;
- The material must identify the plaintiff; and
- The material must have been published to a third party.
Are There Any Recent Case Law Examples?
A recent decision from March 2020 revealed that harsh penalties can be imposed for defamatory statements published on social media. The Supreme Court awarded $110,000 for damaged in relation to defamatory comments made on a Facebook page about the plaintiff.
In this case, a series of posts on a public Facebook page called “Narri Leaks” were made by the defendant Mr Stoltenberg. The post implied that, Mr Bolton, the Mayor of Narrabri Shire Council, was ‘corrupt, dishonest and intimidating in his role as Mayor’. Ms Loder, the other defendant, made “comments” on those Facebook posts.
Mr Bolton commenced defamation proceedings in the Supreme Court against both Mr Stoltenberg and Ms Loder. It was found that the Facebook posts were indeed defamatory, and that Mr Stoltenberg had no defences available to him.
What Can I Do If I Am Defamed Or Being Sued For Defamation?
It is always important to be aware that your activities on social media can have very costly consequences.
If you believe that you have been defamed or if you have been accused of defamation due to posts on your social media page, then you should seek legal advice immediately.