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Australia’s defamation laws were not written with social media in mind. However, the nature of defamation is undoubtedly changing with the rise of social media.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are making it all too easy for people to make damaging and misleading comments.

Australian courts have dealt with 16 defamation cases involving Facebook posts and four defamation cases involving Tweets between 2013 and 2017. In one instance in 2013 the District Court of New South Wales awarded a music teacher $105,000 in compensation for defamatory comments posted on Twitter by a former student.

Given the viral nature of the internet, it is no surprise that comments made online have formed the basis of many recent defamation proceedings. It is important to remember that social media platforms are public domains, and the comments you make can have potentially expensive consequences.

How does defamation apply to social media?

Defamation occurs when a person publishes information about another person, group of people or small company that damages their reputation or image.

A person can be defamed in print, through photographs, as well as on the internet. While defamation cases involving social media are relatively new, the same laws apply.

It is important to note that you can be found liable for defamation for sharing a post, for example retweeting on Twitter - even if you did not create the defamatory material.

What happens if you’re accused of defamation?

If you are accused of defamation you should seek legal advice immediately.

You may be able to resolve the matter by offering to remove the offending statement and offering an apology without the matter proceeding to court.

Additionally, there are several defences to defamation, for example a statement will not be defamatory if it can be established that it is true or an expression of honest opinion . However, the application of those defences is not straightforward and our experienced lawyers can assist you to determine whether your comments fall into one of these categories.

How can you avoid the risks?

Before you post a comment on social media, you should consider the following:

  • Information travels quickly online. A tweet posted on a public Twitter account can be viewed by anyone around the globe.
  • Comments can be difficult to retract. Remember that others can share your posts and screenshot them.
  • Is what you’re saying truthful and accurate? Do you have evidence to support what you’re saying? If not, don’t post it!
  • If you’re posting your opinion, use opinion-based language (e.g. “I believe that…”) and make sure that opinion is based on facts that you can establish are true.
  • Think of yourself as an editor of a newspaper, because you will be just as liable if you defame someone.

How we can help

If you are involved in a defamation dispute, Slater and Gordon can help you by:

  • Guiding you through the legal process and advising you what steps to take
  • Minimizing the likelihood of the matter reaching court
  • Representing you in any defamation proceedings

You can learn more about our defamation services here, or if you have an enquiry about a defamation dispute, you can submit an enquiry online.

Diana Young

Principal Lawyer

Mark Walter

National Practice Group Leader

Eileen Nguyen

Principal Lawyer

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

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