Social Media and Defamation

by The FindLaw Team

So you’ve just been burned by an ex, and you want that person to have their comeuppance, and the traditional voodoo doll isn’t cutting it anymore. What to do? Well, you decide to turn on your computer, go online, and take out your frustrations via Facebook and Twitter, as well as posting the obligatory picture that paints them in a bad light. Your friends and followers get a good laugh, they ‘like’ or re-tweet your postings, and all of the sudden a new internet meme is born and you get your long sought after revenge.  Your ex discovers the ridicule that he or she is subjected to, and as a consequence, friends, workmates, anyone that has any interaction with him or her is subjecting your ex to the same type of ridicule in the real world, lowering their reputation. Feeling good about your handiwork? Well, your ex isn’t impressed and just as quickly, he or she accuses you of defamation.

Online defamation

The world of Facebook and Twitter is a wonder to behold, but many Australians mistake the perceived anonymity and immediateness of social media as a green light to say and do whatever they feel like, without thinking of the consequences beyond the internet. Defaming someone’s character where the ‘ordinary reasonable’ person’ views the individual in a lesser light is a fine line to tread. Keep in mind it’s defamatory to:

• state that someone is corrupt, dishonest, or disloyal
• state that someone is suspected of committing, or alleged to have committed an illegal act
• ridiculing an individual
• state that someone has a contagious disease, is suffering from insanity, or say something that is likely to cause the person to be shunned or avoided, even if there is no suggestion of bad character.

Yes, it may seem harmless to post that drunken picture of your ex, whilst commenting on their private lives in a derogatory manner might prove cathartic to your broken heart, you have to keep in mind that your actions may have defamed your ex as well. In Australia, even if you have not made your defamatory comments in the country, according to Jason Bosland, Senior Lecturer of Media Law at the University of Melbourne, if you have a reputation in Australia, you can be defamed – no matter where in the world you made your comments.

What to do if you have defamed someone online

Now that you have realised the extent of your actions have caused: What should you do? If the material is indeed  defamatory, remove the material immediately, and offer to make amends if your ex has made a complaint that they have been defamed, within 28 days. You can make amends in writing and it must include:

• offer to publish a reasonable correction
• offer to pay expenses reasonably incurred by the complainant to the time of the offer.

Your ex can accept your offer of atonement, the action ends there and you can count your blessings that your ex is forgiving in nature. However, if your ex is still bitter about the whole ordeal, and takes you to court, you do have a defence to defamation if the court finds that your offer was indeed reasonable. An apology can also be useful and it’s not used as an admission of liability as well.

The next time you’re on the internet, having just been spurned by your ex-lover, and are intent on posting the most embarrassing and damaging material possible; stop yourself from pressing the send button, and pick up that voodoo doll instead. If your ex is the vindictive type (hey, they’re an ex for a reason) make sure you get the appropriate assistance.


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