Defamation on social media has become a regular occurrence. The defining characteristic of the present Information Age is the worldwide dissemination of information across global technological platforms. The opinions and views (informed or otherwise) of individuals and corporate entities are no longer only imposed upon those within earshot.
Publication of statements made on social media like Facebook and Twitter, or commercial sites such as Google Review, True Local or TripAdvisor can have significant financial and reputational impacts on businesses. If you are on the receiving end of false and damaging exhortations on these platforms, you may have the right to commence proceedings for defamation in Queensland; even if publication of the statement was physically made outside Queensland.
Defamation occurs when a false statement is published that harms your reputation. Individuals and businesses with 9 or less employees can file a claim in the courts for defamation. The publication must have caused harm to your reputation, but it is not a requirement that you sustain a financial loss. The Defence of Truth is a complete defence.
A finding of defamation can be extended beyond the original producer of the defamatory publication, to any person or business which republishes or distributes the defamatory material. So ‘tagging’ or ‘sharing’ a defamatory post can see each person who has done so in the line of fire as well, even if such an act was accidental.
A limitation Period of 12 months applies from the date of publication. During that period a Defamation Claim in Queensland must be commenced. Failure to meet that deadline may result in the claim being statute barred and unable to be made.
Injurious Falsehood arises from the malicious publication of false statements from which actual financial damage results. The statement must be completely false. Businesses with 10 or more staff cannot file a claim for defamation and are required to make a claim for injurious falsehood instead. It can be difficult to prove actual financial loss.
Malice is the key difference between defamation and injurious falsehood and proof that the defaming party had the motive to hurt or injure you or your business with their statement is required.
On 30 April 2020, the Supreme Court of Victoria found that Google defamed former lawyer George Defteros (Defteros v Google LLC  VSC 219). Google was ordered to pay $40,000 in damages after the Court determined that Google was a ‘publisher’, as its search engine would produce articles and images of Mr Defteros which had been published by The Age newspaper in 2004. Her Honour Justice Richards also found that provision of hyperlinks within search results ‘amounted to publication of the webpage’.
On 12 June 2020, the District Court of Queensland awarded a vet more than $25,000 in damages after a former client (Asbog Veterinary Services Pty Ltd & Anor v Barlow  QDC 112), posted defamatory online reviews and comments on social media about the cost of treatment for her pet beagle. The original bill rendered by the Albion vet surgery was $427.
If you are concerned about social media posts about you or your business, please contact our Kirsten Woolston and obtain legal advice as the sooner you act, the better the available outcomes.