A Victorian local councillor has been ordered to pay Melbourne property developer, Sam Zuchowski, (Managing Director of Cavendish Properties) $205,000 in damages for defamatory comments on social media.
The Victorian County Court heard that in 2019, Kingston Councillor, Cameron Howe, created a Facebook page entitled "Carrum and Patterson Lakes Forum". This Facebook page published a number of defamatory comments about Mr. Zuchowski. Although Mr. Zuchowski was not directly named in these posts, Judge Peter Lauritsen of the Victorian County Court determined that he was reasonably identifiable due to the nature of his job and the small area in which he conducted his business.
The Court determined that the comments were defamatory in nature because they implied that Mr. Zuchowski was acting in a corrupt manner.
Mr. Howe attempted to defend the claim and relied mainly on the defence of innocent dissemination. This defence can be relied on by individuals such as newsagents, librarians and internet service providers who unknowingly publish defamatory material without any negligence on their part.
The Court rejected Mr. Howe's defence on the following grounds:
- As he was an active administrator of the page, he was a "primary distributor of the defamatory comments", and could not claim to be unaware of the comments; and
- He was an active participant in the defamatory discussions.
This case demonstrates the gravity of posting defamatory comments on social media. As the number of people on social media continues to rise, the content that we share has the potential to reach a huge audience and when defamatory, cause significant harm.
Make sure that you carefully consider the implications of any content before posting and ensure that any social media pages that you are an administer of, do not contain any material of a defamatory nature.
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