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The average Australian spends around 2 hours per day on social media, so it’s important to be vigilant about what you or others are posting.  

Social media, while being a powerful tool for communication and expression, should not be misused to spread harmful, unverified information. Doing so may cross the line of freedom of speech and be classified as defamation.

What is social media defamation?

Facebook, Twitter (now known as X), Instagram, and TikTok stand as some of the predominant social media platforms extensively used by Australians today.

While fostering a sense of community and facilitating global communication, publishing material on these platforms is where people are vulnerable to overstepping the mark and defaming someone.

Defamation is characterised as statements that are false, unproven, and crafted with the intent of damaging an individual’s and/or business’ reputation. It’s essential to dispel the misconception that defamation is confined to written statements.

In the context of social media defamation, the damaging content can manifest in various forms, such as text, images, videos, or even comments on a post. Therefore, mindful and responsible use of social media is not just a social responsibility but a legal one.

Examples of social media defamation

Here are a few common examples of social media defamation to be aware of:

  • Spreading false and slanderous comments about a business or individual on any social media platform with the intention of damaging its reputation.
  • Sharing a video that includes untrue comments about an individual, with the purpose of defaming them and causing harm to their reputation.
  • Leaving a Google review that is false and aimed at tarnishing the reputation of a business.

Can you sue for defamation on social media?

Yes, you can, but you must commence legal proceedings within one year of the posting of the defamatory material.

To be able to sue for defamation on social media, the following elements must be addressed:

  1. The defamatory material was published with at least one other party. For example, a social media page such as Facebook would be considered the other party.
  2. The defamatory material posted identifies the defamed party (you). In cases where you are not named, the readers must at least believe that the published material was about you.
  3. The defamatory material is untrue. Statements which are hurtful or unkind are not necessarily defamatory in nature if they are indeed true. Defamatory material must be untrue, with no factual basis.
  4. The material is not a generalised statement and is aimed at you or your business. This can be in a direct or indirect format.
  5. The defamatory material caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to your reputation.

In defamation cases, it is crucial to prove that the defamation has caused serious harm to an individual’s and/or business’ reputation. Examples of such harm may include loss of income, loss of business, harassment from media outlets, and, in some circumstances, breakdown of relationships. However, it must be noted that serious harm involves more than merely substantial harm, and it will be a highly fact-specific question.

Real-life defamation on social media case

In June 2023, a woman from Queensland faced severe repercussions due to defamatory comments she posted on Facebook. She was ordered to pay a hefty sum of $279,000 as a result of her actions.

The woman had posted in a Facebook group, falsely accusing her neighbour of being a ‘paedophile’. Although the post was visible for just 90 minutes, it caused significant harm. In this case, the judge stated that the false allegations had severe implications on the fostering process for a child and hence awarded damages accordingly.

This case underlines the severity of the consequences of defamatory actions on social media platforms, even if the content is posted for a brief period.

What happens if you publish something that is defamatory

First of all, not all comments and statements are capable of being defamatory. Close scrutiny is required to ascertain whether a derogatory statement is, in fact, defamatory or not. In addition, the law on defamation offers certain defenses (e.g., justification, honest opinion, contextual truth, fair comment, etc.) to defamation that may apply to your circumstances. So, if you happen to have published anything that you think is capable of being defamatory, you should seek legal advice immediately.

Get legal support with social media defamation in NSW

If you identify with any of the described scenarios, you may potentially be a victim of defamation.

You could be on the receiving end of damaging statements with the intent of tarnishing your reputation. It is important to remember that you have legal rights in such cases.

Take immediate action by documenting the defamatory content, noting the date and time of its posting, and seeking advice from a legal professional. As stated above, legal action must be taken within one year of the posting of the defamatory material.

Timely advice from a legal professional may help you understand to what extent the law protects you against social media defamation and also assist you in taking appropriate legal steps in response to such publications.

Our litigation team is happy to answer any questions you may have or provide you with further information on social media defamation. Please contact us today.

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