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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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