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Social media and defamation law – be very careful what you post online


Social Media & Defeamation

Using social media platforms to share your experiences or try and ‘get back’ at someone can lead to protracted and very costly defamation litigation. We’ve provided a scenario which shows why you need to stop and think about the consequences before venting your frustrations online.

Scenario

Jane and Daniel were together for 10 years before their relationship ended in a bitter breakup earlier this year.

Daniel turned to Facebook to vent his frustrations, and shared a public post to his Facebook friends stating “Jane turned out to be a lying, thieving money obsessed, nag of a partner who screwed me out of millions. Stay away – she can’t be trusted!”

Daniel tagged Jane in the post to ensure her Facebook friends would see the post too.

With the rise of digital publications and social media, posts like these following a bitter breakup are all too common. Ordinary people with access to a computer, or smartphone now have the ability to become publishers in their own right.

Indeed, there has never been a more accessible or efficient means of interacting with a vast audience than the present time. The relative ease and efficiency with which information may be shared online has, in turn, significantly increased claims of defamation from posts shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

What is defamation?

Defamation law acts to protect reputations and provides an individual with the right to take legal action when a person feels their reputation has been attacked and damaged. For the publication to be considered defamatory, the communication must:

  1. Have been ‘published’ (publication can be achieved through spoken or written words, gestures, printed or electronic images, publications on the internet, communications in person or by broadcast);
  2. Identify the plaintiff (the person who claims their reputation has been attacked); and
  3. Be ‘defamatory’ to the plaintiff.

A publication will be considered ‘defamatory’ if, in the minds of ordinary and reasonable people, it injures an individual’s reputation by:

  1. disparaging him or her;
  2. causing others to shun or avoid the individual; or
  3. subjecting that individual to hatred, ridicule or contempt.

In our scenario above, Daniel’s Facebook post had been published online, clearly identified Jane, and was defamatory in the sense that it disparaged Jane, and was likely to subject her to hatred or ridicule and even cause others to shun or avoid her.

"You need to stop and think about the consequences..."

With these elements established, it would then fall to David, the publisher, to establish a defence to Jane’s defamation claim.

Defences to defamation include that the communication was truthful, was said in the course of parliamentary proceedings, was a fair comment about a matter of public interest, or was communicated because of a publisher’s legal, social or moral duty to provide the information.

Think before you act

Even if you think you are an aggrieved party (for example, following the breakdown of a personal or professional relationship, etc) you need to stop and think about the consequences of venting your frustrations online.

Using social media platforms to share your experiences or try and ‘get back’ at someone can lead to protracted and very costly defamation litigation.

If you are being sued for defamation, or believe you are the victim of someone else defaming you, please feel free to get in touch with us. 

This blog has been written by our UniSA Intern, Julia Arena and settled by one of our Senior Associates. 

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Julia Arena 

Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Andersons Solicitors. It relates to Australian Federal and South Australian legislation. Andersons Solicitors is a medium sized law firm servicing metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia across all areas of law for individuals and businesses.