Social Media Storms: When Statements Become Defamatory
Social media has permeated all parts of our life. We can update where we are, message our friends, keep up to date on news and let the world know “what’s on our minds”. This last function has caused the most trouble for social media users. Since Facebooks launch in 2004 and globalisation in 2006, hundreds of thousands of Australians have signed up, logged in and started posting. As of June this year over 1.4 million Australians are on Facebook and 2791300 on Twitter. With smart phone and 24/7 internet access, social media has revolutionised the way we communicate; allowing users to generate and disseminate content in a matter of seconds.
A person or companies reputation is of utmost importance to them. It can take years to build and can now be ruined in a matter of minutes through social media. With its integration into our daily lives, users have become complacent as to the impact their statements may have, and the difficulty faced in removing such posts. This user friendly method of telling the world your point of view has led to a heightened risk of defamatory posting.
Defamation through social media was first highlighted in the 2011 case of Marike Hardy. The Melbourne writer had to pay undisclosed damages and apologies to Joshua Maggitt for incorrectly identifying him on Twitter as the author of a “hate blog” directed at her. Since then the issue has increased in profile with some law firms receiving up to 48 per cent of its defamation queries relating to material posted on social media.
Although a relatively new area of technology the Australian courts have been willing to award damages in numerous instances including the Western Australian case where a women was ordered to pay $12,500 to her estranged husband for posting allegations on social media that she suffered domestic abuse at his hands.
The issue is not just a personal one, but can see parents taking responsibility and paying the damages of their children’s post. In Mr Farley’s case, the defamatory statements he wrote about his music teacher ended up costing the family $105,000 in damages.
When looking at what the courts awards, damages are always of a high amount. This is because of the wide reach of social media sights and the ability for global search engines to pick up the news. Where published media used to be limited to where the newspapers were delivered, social media has what the courts call a “grapevine effect”. This highlights the difficulty in tracking the scandal once the original defamatory publication has been made and thus the inability to truly quantify the impact the comment will have on a person’s reputation and life.
With the scope and amount of users of social media continuing to increase, there are increasing instances of defamation cases being threatened, settled or bought to the court. This is compounded by the courts willingness to accept social media cases and be sympathy with the subject of defamatory posts. Despite settings being installed to limit reach of private posts the message continues: “be careful what you post”.
About the author
Haley Graydon is a law clerk at Lynn & Brown. Haley is currently in her final year of study at UWA. The areas of law that Haley has a keen interest in is family law and estates.