Defamation is not just for the rich and famous

Recent press coverage has highlighted that legal actions arising from activity on social media are on the increase and are no longer limited to claims by the rich and famous.

For example in Port Stephens, the local Mayor is suing two people for defamation after they alleged in a Facebook post that he touched two women on the buttocks at a function.  Both the person that posted the original allegation and also a second person who re-posted the allegations are being sued.

This follows on from a recent decision in a Swiss court that found a person who ‘liked’ a defamatory post on Facebook was guilty of defamation. The court said that by clicking the like button, the “defendant clearly endorsed the unseemly content and made it his own.”

Closer to home, NSW Judge Judith Gibson said that people posting and re-posting negative commentary on Facebook and in blogs are likely to be faced with expensive legal action which could end up costing them between $100,000 to $1 million to defend.  

Judge Gibson said that “claims based on publications on the internet, emails and on social media, are now far more common than claims against traditional media defendants.”

Perhaps a useful ‘acid test’ when the fingers are hovering over the keyboard is to ask yourself ‘Would I feel comfortable shouting this allegation in front of the other school parents, or down at the local club?’  In a legal sense, it’s all the same risk.  If that advice is perhaps too late for you, feel free to contact us for assistance.

Cove Legal Principal Roger Blow is recognised as a media law expert, particularly in liability arising from the use of social media.  He has represented tier one national political figures in defamation disputes and obtained injunctions in the Supreme Court of Western Australia relating to derogatory Facebook publications.

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