Very little of the average Sydneysider’s life isn’t on Facebook or Google. Most of the time, there’s no problem with this, but there are crucial times when you need to be extremely careful what people can find on the internet about you, including what you put out there. You’ve probably heard that when you’re applying for jobs you need to be careful about what’s on your Facebook page, but you might not know that what you post on Facebook can land you in deep water. Any lawyer will tell you that Facebook and Google can be your worst enemies as they can lead you to be sued for defamation and personal injury.
You might remember late last year a case where an Australian man sued Google for defamation. The details of the case that were released to press revealed that the unnamed man had been shunned and treated differently as a result of his photo appearing alongside gangland figures like Toby Mokbel, as well as a Google search for his name bringing up results relating to an unsolved shooting in 2004.
Google argued hard that they had not published the photos, they were merely the conduit for those photos to be published. They claimed that because their search engine is based off algorithms that trawl the Internet, there’s no way that they could control what content appeared or where.
However, the court found themselves in favour of the unnamed man whose reputation had been ruined as a result of the Google search results, and he’d even been made to feel unwanted in his migrant community. Google was made to pay damages of $200,000 to the man. This compensation came after the same man won a similar case against Yahoo!, who had to pay the man $225,000 in damages. Despite the large sums of cash awarded to the man, he claims that the cases weren’t about money, but instead protecting his family, particularly his children, and his reputation.
Of course, if you do become involved in a defamation case, it’s highly unlikely that it will be on such a large scale. Every day there are smaller, but no less important, cases regarding defamation moving through courts around Australia. The average Australian is more likely to become involved in a defamation case related to content posted to Facebook or Twitter.
It can feel really good to send out a tweet or post on Facebook ripping into someone as an act of revenge. Maybe they broke up with you, insulted your mother, or trashed your car. Your anger then becomes the latest viral fad on the Internet. Posts like that can severely damage a person’s reputation, the people who know the subject of your tweet may begin to treat them differently, even teasing or bullying them. They might miss out on a promotion because it’s not the image the company wants associated with them. And with that a simple Facebook post, written in a moment of rage, can land you in court being sued for defamation.
When you log back into Facebook or Twitter after a few days and you start to worry that maybe what you wrote really could be defamatory, there are a few things you can do to set the record straight. Firstly, remove the material, so delete the posts or tweets. Next, if the person you attacked claims they’ve been defamed you can, within 28 days, write a written letter of apology that includes an offer to publish a reasonable correction (i.e. “What I said was wrong”), and an offer to pay any expenses that person has encountered as a result of the material at the time of your offer (so they can’t keep asking you for money after the offer has been given). If you’re lucky, your offers will be accepted and the matter will end there. Otherwise you’ll be in court, but having apologised and attempted to make amends, you at least have some good standing.
Defamation is a serious matter as it can have serious consequences to the people involved, not just the victim, but also the defamer. Being found guilty of defamation can suggest to those around you that you lack emotional maturity, or you’re unable to solve a conflict in an adult manner.