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Defamation on Facebook: What to do if you can’t “just ignore it”?

19 Apr 2017

Topics

  • Dispute Resolution

A person’s reputation is perhaps their most precious possession. Someone spreading malicious or false rumours can have a serious effect on all aspects of a person’s life and may result in your career and personal life being severely damaged. With the rise of social media, the ability for someone to spread such falsities has unfortunately increased. It may be that some people feel emboldened when hiding behind the relative disconnect that a computer screen provides. Thankfully, the law is evolving to deal with such challenges. The recent case of Reid v Dukic shows that the ACT Courts take online defamation seriously.

Facts of the Case

The Plaintiff, in this case, was a well-respected and much-admired member of the Canberra sporting community, being the then CEO of a sporting association. She is particularly respected for work towards gender equity on and off the field. As an acknowledgement of her efforts and achievements, she was awarded the Order of Australia for her work. Unfortunately, as is sadly the case for many in public life she became the target of false allegations. The Defendant in this matter posted the allegations on Facebook. Initially, the Plaintiff tried to be measured and resolute but as the false allegations increased in seriousness and continued she could no longer dismiss the behaviour as mere “rants”.

After legal proceedings commenced the Defendant, instead of apologising and backtracking, threatened to publish further defamatory material if the proceedings were not ceased.

The Result

As the Defendant had not filed a defence, the court by default found the various posts made online to be defamatory. Therefore, the only issue for the court was to calculate the amount of compensation payable by the Defendant to the Plaintiff and whether it was appropriate to issue an order preventing the Defendant from posting further defamatory material.

In determining how much compensation was payable the Court, amongst other considerations, took very seriously the fact that defamatory conduct took place on Facebook. Additionally, the Court also considered that the Defendant’s conduct had affected both the home and work life of the Plaintiff. The Court awarded $160,000 in compensation to the Plaintiff.

However, the Court did not stop at this amount. A further amount of $22,700 was awarded to the Plaintiff for “aggravated damages”. This amount was awarded as a result of the threats made by the Defendant to publish more defamatory material after legal proceedings had started.

Conclusion

Plainly the Court in the ACT does not view the spreading of malicious or false rumours online as any less damaging then defamation via more traditional means. The Court seems to recognise that defamation that occurs online and by social media can be even more harmful because it is so readily accessible and spreadable.

How can Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers assist you?

Snedden Hall & Gallop can assist you in ensuring your response to defamation in social media is timely and effective. Please contact us by phone on (02) 6285 8000or by email here and you can see details of our dispute resolution team here.