BE CAREFUL what you post.
That’s the lesson a leading law firm, and a climbing number of its clients, have learnt as social media posts have now contributed to almost half its of defamation inquiries.
Former Orange High School student Andrew Farley was one of those Facebook users caught up in a defamation case.
The 20-year-old had a grudge against one of his former teachers. It was to do with his father, also a teacher who had left the NSW school.
Like an increasing number of Australians, Mr Farley might have naively thought his Facebook and Twitter profiles would be a safe place to air his grievances about the music teacher, Christine Mickle.
What he had posted, a judge decided, was “false allegations” about the 58-year-old, and the effect on her “was devastating”, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Mr Farley was forced to pay Ms Mickle $105,000 in damages in what is believed to be Australia’s first Twitter defamation case to go to trial.
In a case in Western Australia earlier this year, a woman was ordered to pay $12,500to her estranged husband after accusing him of subjecting her to domestic abuse.
Though these cases were among the first of their kind, it’s likely there will be plenty more similar trials to come, Slater and Gordon defamation lawyer Jeremy Zimet predicts.
While defamation disputes were once the reserve of big publishers and news broadcasters, Mr Zimet says social media is changing the landscape of defamation in Australia.
“The internet has created a new class of publishers — ordinary, everyday people who are posting comments about each other on public forums,” he said.
“As a result, we are seeing more defamatory material being published on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, and a new wave of social media defamation cases arising.”
Slater and Gordon says that, in the past financial year, 48 per cent of its defamation inquiries were about material posted on social media, with most of those relating to Facebook posts.
Mr Zimet pointed to recent court cases the firm had been involved in where a person was accused of serious criminal offences on Facebook, and another who was defamed on a blog.
“Last year, a NSW teenager was ordered to pay his former teacher $105,000 for defaming her on Twitter, and this year, in WA, a woman had to pay her ex-husband $12,500 after she posted damaging allegations against him on Facebook,” he said.
“I expect that, as a result of these types of cases, we will continue to receive more inquiries.”
And even untouchable celebrities aren’t immune to copping a complaint over Twitter tirades.
Social media megastar Kim Kardashian was sued by a diet company in 2009 after tweeting to her millions of followers the company has falsely promoted she used its products. The Siegal Cookie Diet had linked to a story on its website reporting the reality star was on its diet, which it later removed, but decided her tweet implied the company was prepared to lie. The company later agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.
Just last year, Courtney Love won a landmark libel case over a tweet that her lawyer believed defamed her.
While a handful of social media posts have cost their authors big bucks, Mr Zimet said not all would end up that way.
“In some cases, taking down a defamatory post and issuing an apology may be enough to prevent a person from taking legal action,” he said.