On a general consensus basis the internet has been regarded as being a pioneer in global connectivity and instantaneous communication. However as everything good comes with a price, this is the case in regards to defamation laws. The contentious issue of defamation has been prevalent throughout legal history however there has been a recent emergence in online defamation. Due to the convenience and accessibility of communicating online, this may give rise to the potential ‘trolling’ or defamation of another’s character. In a landmark decision which took place in the New South Wales District Court in 2014 concerning a high school student, he was ordered to pay a sum of $105,000 to the teacher he posted tweets that defamed her character.
In a more recent decision, Treasurer Joe Hockey was successful in his case against Fairfax for the publishing defamatory tweets and visual content labelling him as ‘Treasurer for Sale’. The interesting point to be noted about Joe Hockey’s win is that he was successful in his claim that the online content published was of a defamatory nature however lost his case in regards to the articles and headlines of Fairfax newspapers tarnishing his character.
There are laws enacted in NSW that target defamatory actions and which you should be aware of when it comes to your rights online. The offence of defamation is only committed when a person falsely publishes material that defames another person without the knowledge of whether the information is valid or invalid.
Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
Section 529(3) of the Crimes Act states that an offence of criminal defamation may be committed if a person without lawful excuse, publishes matter defamatory of another living person (the victim):
- Knowing the matter to be false, and
- With intent to cause serious harm to the victim, or any other person, being reckless as to whether such harm has been caused – is guilty of an offence.
However, Australian courts face the challenge of balancing a person’s right to freedom of speech and the safeguarding of a person’s character combined with the democratic concept of free speech.
Defamation Act 2005 (NSW)
Common law provides for protection under the Defamation Act 2005. The repercussions of defamatory comments may have for the individual responsible can be devastating as highlighted in recent incidents. It is essential that users of online social media, whether it be Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat should be wary of the consequences their words might have.
Even if the content posted by the individual is removed immediately, it may be deemed too late as in the online world content is instantaneously shared, saved and re-posted without the user being aware. In the online world, it is important that you are wary of the imprint you may leave behind and may come back to bite you in the long run if care is not taken.
If you have any concerns about defamatory statements that have been made about you, or wish to discuss a matter concerning social media, give us a call on 02 8917 8700 or alternatively, fill out the enquiry box and we will get back to you ASAP!