Did you know almost 8 in 10 people in Australia have an active social media account?
The popularity and accessibility of social media has advantages but there are also disadvantages. One disadvantage is the increase in “keyboard warriors” and “online trolls”. Keyboard warriors are known to behave aggressively and unreasonably online, but unsurprisingly in “real life” they do not behave in that way.
Internet trolls conduct themselves in a similar manner, but are known to target newsgroups, forums, chat rooms and blogs and do so to evoke an emotional reaction which can constitute defamation.
Whether it be published on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn, all social media organisations (and newspaper outlets and radio stations) have policies and procedures in place to counter this online behaviour. The issue with these policies is you see what has been published before you can take appropriate action. Or in some instances, you are unaware about the posts until long after being published in cyber space when the damage to your personal or professional reputation has already occurred.
So what can you do if you have been targeted by a keyboard warrior or internet troll?
Have I Been Defamed?
Firstly, you need to determine whether the publication is defamatory or not. Defamation is defined as “false and derogatory statements about another person published in the press, electronic media or by word of mouth, without any justification recognised by law”. The legislation concerning defamation in Queensland is found in the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld).
Obtaining Evidence Of The Imputations
Secondly, you need to obtain evidence of the defamatory content to initiate a case of defamation. Ideally, as much information as possible should be recorded. Whether this record be in the form of handwritten notes (including date, time, location and content of discussion, for verbal defamation), or screenshots taken from the relevant online sources evidencing the defamatory content concerning you.
Once you have the relevant evidence of the defamatory conduct, whether it be published on social media, radio or television, or in the newspaper, the next step is to seek legal advice from an experienced defamation lawyer who will provide you with the right advice and legal options to ascertain whether the publication is defamatory and what remedies are available to you.
Are There Any Defences Available For The Defamatory Publication?
It must be noted, however, that although the publication may be defamatory to you, the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld) and the common law include a number of defences including these:
- contextual truth,
- absolute privilege,
- public documents,
- fair report of proceedings of public concern,
- qualified privilege,
- honest opinion, and
- innocent dissemination
Therefore, it is important to obtain advice before any correspondence is sent to the publisher of the defamatory material as a defence may well be available.
A Recent Example
Although this case concerned defamatory material published on the radio, the same legal principles apply to defamatory posts published on social media.
Recently, the well-known broadcaster, Mr Alan Jones, along with radio stations 2GB and 4BC, defamed the highly successful Wagner family in a series of radio broadcasts where it was published that the Wagner family were responsible for the deaths of 12 people, including two children, in the 2011 Grantham floods when a quarry wall owned by the family collapsed.
Justice Flanagan of the Supreme Court of Queensland found that the allegations were defamatory and ordered that Mr Jones and 2GB and 4BC pay the family $3.75 million in damages. (See Wagner and Others v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd and Others  QSC 201).
Why Do I Need A Lawyer To Assist Me?
Defamation is a serious matter and can have a disastrous impact on your personal and professional reputation. Defamation matters can be complex and you need an expert lawyer on your side to effectively navigate the legislation and put forward your best possible case so you obtain the right outcome, whether it be having the content permanently removed or receiving compensation for having your reputation injured.
How Long Does A Defamation Case Take?
Defamation cases may take some time to resolve. However, it is normal practice to firstly send the defamer a letter or ‘concerns notice’ inviting them to make amends before any court proceedings are commenced.
How We Can Help
Just as easily as content can be published online, the damage to a person’s reputation may have already occurred. Simply removing the publication may be insufficient to redress the damage to reputation.That is when you should contact us at Quinn & Scattini Lawyers.
We are available to meet with you at any of our local offices (Brisbane, Gold Coast, Beenleigh, Cleveland and Jimboomba) or by telephone or video-conference.
This article is for your information and interest only. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and it does not constitute and must not be relied on as legal advice. You must seek specific advice tailored to your circumstances.