Many of you use Facebook and other Social Media these days posting statuses about your latest holiday, or just about the morning’s coffee break; but you need to be wary that the moment you start making negative comments you may be breaching the law. Indeed all users of social media beware that comments posted on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram constitute publication, and you may find yourself liable for significant compensation and legal costs.
This time last year, the District Court was deciding how to deal with Andrew Farley in Mickle v Farley [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] NSW DC 295 . Andrew Farley had attended Orange High School a few years prior, and his father also taught at that school, but left due to ill health. Farley began posting defamatory comments in relation to the local music teacher, Ms Mickle based on a belief that she had something to do with his father’s leaving. The posts were made on Facebook and Twitter. Ms Mickle was well regarded as a very experienced teacher with a widely recognised reputation around the community as having great skill and devotion to her work and students. Ms Mickle immediately went on sick leave after the publications, and only returned to work on a limited basis a year later. Ironically, prior to the publications by Farley, Ms Mickle had been assisting students at the school with various Facebook bullying matters.
The District Court Judge, Judge Elkaim accepted that the comments made by Farley about Ms Mickle were untrue, and that Ms Mickle was not involved in Farley’s father leaving the school. The Judge also highlighted that defamatory comments on social media can spread easily, that this grapevine effect was inherent to this type of communication and is where their evil lies.
Ultimately the Court awarded compensatory damages to Ms Mickle in the sum of $85,000 to vindicate her reputation and compensate her for the distress and insult, and aggravated damages in the sum of $20,000 plus legal costs. Farley ended up having to declare bankruptcy, and published a warning to other social media users to be “really careful”.
So, kids, after school is out and you have a gripe to grind about your teachers, be careful… it could be the most expensive comment you make.
Employees, after a hard day at work, be wary what you say about your boss; ensure you stay in line with your companies’ social media policies.
And businesses, do some careful consideration and planning before issues arise. Make sure you have social media policies in place, and that any issues are dealt with promptly.
If you want further information or assistance in this area, please call Davina Borrow-Jones Senior Associate, Tonkin Drysdale.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]