Beware your actions online - What you post can come back to bite!

Authors of online posts have little control of just how far their posts will travel beyond their intended audience. Posting without forethought may give rise to unanticipated and unwanted consequences, as Associate Principal Caroline Callegari explains.

Introduction

We spend a lot of our time online these days – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, posting online reviews – the list goes on. But there is a danger in doing so. From behind the computer, it is easy to forget that what we do in the online world can have the same repercussions from a legal standpoint as what we say and do in person.   Posting the wrong thing can get you in trouble and you do need to ensure that what you are putting out there is the truth, or at least a genuinely and reasonably held opinion.

Recent cases

In two recent defamation cases, the Courts had to consider defamatory posts that were posted online via the Google Review function and Facebook, respectively. These cases demonstrate the dangers of posting online and the potential legal ramifications.

In the first case, the Court had to consider whether an online review was defamatory and, if it was, whether it was excused by one of the legal defences to defamation. In a novel use of the defence, the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal has held that Qualified Privilege can be a defence to an otherwise defamatory Google Review given that most people who look at the reviews are interested in the subject matter. It is not a simple defence to establish though, and so, it is not an excuse to post whatever you want about another without first doing your home work.

In the second case, the District Court of Townsville awarded damages for a serious and defamatory accusation made by one neighbour against another on a community Facebook page. This case highlights that it is not just famous people who can and do sue for defamation, and it is not just high-profile publishers that can be caught out and forced to pay significant damages if defamation can be established. The ordinary person can sue and be sued in the right circumstances and damages that are can be significant.

The learnings from these cases are that you should be careful what you post online and ensure that whatever you do post is reasonable, has a proper basis behind it, is posted without malice and represents a genuinely and reasonably held belief as to the truth of what you have posted.  

A further summary of the cases can be found via the links below.  

Lorbek v King [2023] VSCA 111 (12 May 2023)

Srecko and David Lorbek v Peter King [2022] VSC 218 (5 May2022)

Rodgers & Anor v Gooding [2023] QDC 115 (23 June 2023)

A word of caution

Remember this – you are responsible for what you post online and can be sued for defamation. The key takeaways are:

  • always “think before you post”;
  • don’t post anything that you would not be willing to say to someone’s face;
  • don’t lie online – you will be caught;
  • “do your homework” before posting;
  • don’t post when angry but when you are calm and have considered whether what you are about to say is reasonable; and
  • be sure that what you say can be justified.  

How Sharrock Pitman Legal can assist?

In reality, authors of an online posts have little control of just how far their posts will travel. Posting comments online may reach your intended audience. But there’s no stopping your post roving further afield and into the content stream of social media users the world over.

If your posts gets you into trouble or if you are a victim of malicious online content, act quickly to seek legal advice. While the damage may have been done, the longer activity remains unaddressed, a resolution will likely be hard to find.

If you believe that you have been defamed or if a defamation claim has been made against you, please to do not hesitate to contract our experienced Litigation team by email litigation@sharrockpitman.com.au or contact us on 1300 205 506.

 

The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

For further information contact  
Caroline Callegari

Caroline Callegari is an Associate Principal and leads our Disputes & Litigation team. She has an advisory and advocacy practice in the following areas: Commercial Litigation, corporate and personal disputes, debt recovery and, insolvency and bankruptcy matters. Caroline can be contacted on (03) 8561 3324.

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