You web browser may not be properly supported. To use this site and all its features we recommend using the latest versions of Chrome, Safari or Firefox

If you are looking for information on Westpac CCI class action click here

Mobile Phone

Australia’s first social media defamation case proceeded to full trial recently, with a former student ordered to pay more than $100,000 in damages over a series of defamatory posts about a teacher at the school. Now that’s an expensive tweet!

It's also a reminder to the online community that defamation laws extend online; and it’s no surprise that we’re probably going to see more.

Rather than expanding the definition of defamation under Australian law, this case reminds us that defamation already extends to the internet, and it should be a wake up call for anyone using social media to be careful about what they post. A split second decision to share information through social media could be very expensive.

Social media is no different to other forms of publishing in terms of defamation, and the fact that social media can assist broadcasting it further adds risk.

When posting on Facebook or Twitter, take the newspaper test – think of yourself as an editor of a newspaper or media outlet, because you will be just as liable if you defame someone.

Here are five things you should know about social media defamation:

  1. In general terms, defamation occurs when a person intentionally spreads information about another person, group of people, or small company that damages their reputation, or can make others think less of them.
  2. Defamation is actionable regardless of the medium. A person can be defamed, for example, in print, through photos and on the internet.
  3. Defamation cases involving the internet and social media are relatively new, but the same principles apply.
  4. A person who did not create the defamatory material, but only shares it (for instance, by “retweeting” a tweet), can also be held found liable guilty of defamation.
  5. There are several defences to defamation, including that the statement was true, or that it was an expression of an honest opinion. Consequently, you may be liable for defamation if you spread information which constitutes a hurtful and untrue statement of fact about another person.

What if I’m accused of social media defamation?

The best thing do you if you are accused of defamation is to take down the offending post, and offer an apology. If you’re lucky, the person will forgive you and you won’t end up in court.

With the rise of social media, ordinary citizens are becoming publishers and will be subjected to the same laws as newspapers and other news outlets.

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.

Thank you for your feedback.

Related blog posts

Social Media and the Law
Social media and your job – what are the obligations?

Australian workers continue to embrace social media to connect with family, friends and colleagues. Yet as recent cases have shown, there's a grey line between your responsibilities as an employee at work and what you post on social media, and it's important to be aware of the pitfalls. Frank opinions, robust debates and questionable jokes are just some of the day-to-day material you may see browsing your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Traditionally some of these conversations would have been saved for the pub, before we were gifted what is essentially a virtual online megaphone. Unlike the pub and its four walls, what is said on social media is much harder to contain and could eventually come...

Social Media and the Law
Stretching the boundaries of social media use

Recent cases involving employees’ use of social media have drawn attention to the now blurry distinction between work and home life. These cases invite us to question where the line should be drawn in relation to employees’ use of social media outside of work hours. The August 2013 decision of the Federal Circuit Court involving Michaela Banerji, a Canberra civil servant working in the public affairs section of the Federal Department of Immigration, has drawn much media attention. Ms Banerji was an avid tweeter, and under the twitter handle @LaLegale, published comments (sometimes critical) about the Australian Government’s immigration policy, the then Immigration Minister, the Prime...

We're here to help

Start your online claim check now. Or, if you have a question, get in touch with our team.