Do you update your social media profiles regularly? Are you ever tempted to vent online about someone or something that has annoyed you? Do you ever speculate or take your opinions to “tweet”? If so, you might need to rethink your actions in light of a recent NSW case, the first of its kind in Australia. The case of Mickle v Farley  NSWDC 295 is a warning to all social media users that their posts can have expensive consequences for them.
In this case, a former student posted a number of defamatory comments about a teacher at his former high school in 2012. The former student’s father was a previous employee at the school and the remarks centred round the allegation that the teacher had been involved in his father leaving his position at the school in 2008 (a position which the teacher subsequently filled). The comments resulted in the teacher needing to take long term sick leave (approximately 12 months) and having her reputation damaged in the local community.
The court found that the teacher was entitled to damages and ordered that the former student pay $105,000 to the teacher, despite the comments having been removed within a few weeks of posting. The damages were both for compensation and for aggravation (the former student argued that the comments were true in defence to the defamation claim and the court found no validity to this argument).
This case shows that:
courts are taking into account the nature of social media, in particular, the fact that social media allows defamatory comments to spread to numerous individuals quickly, a sort of “grapevine effect”;
you need to be careful about:
“venting” or making unsubstantiated statements on social media (or online in general); and
arguing that your comments are “true” if you cannot prove they are.
This article should not be used in the place of specific legal advice and is a summary only – please contact McNamara and Associates to discuss your matter in detail on 1300 574 974.
Article by: By Belinda Pinnow, Solicitor