Trial by (Social) Media

There is no doubt that social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) have revolutionised how we obtain our information, but a new recent Australian Court decisions serve as a timely reminder that electronic media is not immune from the usual laws relating to Defamation.

What might surprise people the most is that it isn’t just celebrities like Rebel Wilson that are succeeding in these cases: Teacher’s on the receiving end of comments by students and even in a local example, people posting in Facebook groups inviting criticism of a local business owner. We are now in an era where people are used to expressing their opinions on a wide range of topics very freely – it is important to be careful about what forums are chosen to express those opinions. How do you avoid these pitfalls when publishing your opinion or commenting on another opinion online?

Generally, there is a two-part test about whether or not comments are defamation:

1. The comments are untrue, and;

2. Tend to damage the reputation of the person who is the subject of those comments.

And for those people who try and say “but that’s not what I meant” – that isn’t a Defence to Defamation: If just one of the meanings is capable of damaging the reputation, you can be on the hook.

For some free, prudent advice you should take the following steps before publishing:

1. Ask yourself “do I really need to make these comments”

2. If you must make the comments, double and triple check the truthfulness of what you are about to say. If it isn’t true, don’t say it!