• Alyce Cooper

Step away from the keyboard – why your social media comments could land you in deep water

Our legal expert Alyce Cooper tells us why you need to be careful online

Everyone needs to be careful what they post, like and comment on in social media, whether it be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or reviews on websites.

The problem with social media is that the defamatory comments can spread easily.

A public Facebook page can be viewed worldwide by whoever clicks on that page, and posts can be shared by many people, creating a grapevine effect of who potentially sees the comments you write.

Under Defamation laws, you can be personally sued if someone feels you have defamed their character. This may simply be from a comment you make about them on social media.

A popular post for people is when they end a relationship and there is hurt and anger. In Western Australia a man sued his estranged spouse for uploading a post that said: “separated from (my partner) after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse. Now fighting the system to keep my children safe”.

The Court found this post was defamatory and awarded the man $12,500 in damages.

In Queensland, the CEO of Karting Australia sued a man for damages after he posted comments about him being a “bully” and a “crook” and accused him of “incompetence and corruption”.

The Court found that the CEO suffered injury to his personal and business reputation and awarded him damages of $250,000.

The law recognises that people have an interest in their reputation and that reputation may be harmed by the publication of defamatory matters.

A person's reputation is said to be injured when the esteem in which that person is held by the community is diminished in some respect. Generally, the test is whether the published matter leads to a person to think lesser of that person the comment is about.

The test is what meaning an ordinary reasonable reader would give to the post.

There are also signs that a defamation action could go much further - In 2017, in Switzerland, a Court ruled that clicking the ‘like’ button on a Facebook comment indicated support for the original post which described someone as racist and the ‘like’ click was deemed defamatory.

It is for these reasons that you need to be very careful what you comment and post about on social media. People are entitled to commence Court proceedings for defamation within 12 months of the alleged defamation.

Alyce Cooper is the Principal Solicitor at AKC Legal. Ms Cooper specialises in traffic law, criminal law, civil law, family law, Estate Planning and Probate matters.

The contents of this article should not be construed as specific legal advice to any individual reader’s situation. If you would like legal advice tailored to your situation, please contact AKC Legal on 0401 451 322.

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