HAVING a spray about someone on social media can have significant consequences, warn Bathurst solicitors and social media experts.
Angus Edwards from Kenny Springs Solicitors said he was being contacted on a weekly basis by people upset about what had been written about them on a social media platform.
Mr Edwards said what people didn’t seem to understand was that writing something on social media was effectively the same as publishing it on the front page of a newspaper.
“Defamation is when you intentionally spread information to a group of people to damage someone’s reputation,” Mr Edwards said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s in print, photos or on the internet, it’s the same principle.”
Mr Edwards said the same principles would also apply to sharing or retweeting a defamatory post.
“Publishing on Facebook is no different to publishing on the front page of the Western Advocate,” he said.
Founding consultant with Bathurst-based Kai Ming Consulting, Peter Sutton, who provides social media advice and solutions, said people seemed to think when they said something on social media it was to a closed audience. But the reality is quite different.
“People think they are making this statement in a safe environment, like it’s face to face. But the medium, it’s speed, reach and searchability, amplifies the message, whether it’s positive or negative,” he said.
Mr Sutton said audiences online were far more connected than traditional media.
He said in a pre-social media world if someone upset up you might threaten to go the local paper or a current affairs program, but now people spray it on Facebook.
“They get fire in their fingers and think it’s a relatively closed group but it’s not,” he said. “You see it a lot it in employer versus employee or employees gone rogue.”
Defamatory comments can have serious consequences.
“You could find yourself hauled in front of the court,” Mr Edwards said, citing a Central West case where a school teacher made legal history after a former student was ordered to pay $105,000 for defaming her on Twitter and Facebook.
In the first Twitter defamation battle in Australia to proceed to a full trial, District Court judge Michael Elkaim ruled that former Orange High School student Andrew Farley should pay compensatory and aggravated damages for making false allegations about music teacher Christine Mickle.
Mr Edwards said people making comments online risked both civil and criminal action.
“If you use a telecommunication device to bully, threat, harass, intimidate or threaten to cause physical harm, you can be charged and convicted.,” he said.