What would you do if someone decided to spread horrible lies and rumours about you?
You may do nothing because you believe that it will all just simply blow over in time. However, what if this does not happen? What if the rumours and lies grow? What if they actually damage your lifestyle and make it impossible for you to either get work or perform your current work? In this nightmarish situation, you are able to turn to the law in the hope that it will save you.
Defamation law aims to protect the reputations of people by punishing those who spread false information about them. If someone communicates information to another person which identifies you, and this information could injure your reputation by either causing people to avoid you or expose you to ridicule, hatred or contempt, then they have defamed you. If this were to occur you would be entitled to sue this person for damages and receive monetary compensation from them.
While the concept of defamation has been present in society for a while, it has gained an increased presence in the age of social media. Social media is well known as a platform for which people can share their opinions freely. While this was aimed to create many positive relationships and interactions between people, it has unfortunately also become a vehicle used by people to viciously attack others. These faceless cowards utilise the anonymity that social media can provide to say things to people that they would never be brave enough to say to their faces – bringing the dawn of the age of the keyboard warrior.
Often these keyboard warriors do not fear any repercussions for their actions due to their belief in the veil of anonymity. However, this is where they are wrong as the law is catching up to them!
We have been closely following decisions from international Courts.
In Canada, the Court found that even if not all the comments in a post were defamatory, the comments exposed the injured persons to hatred, ridicule and contempt by social media followers.
In Zurich, the Court found the support of followers simply by liking or commenting on a social media post could also make those followers liable for defamation.
Australia is catching up. On 27 June 2018 the South Australian District Court delivered a decision in Johnston v Aldridge  SADC 68.
The Defendant in South Australia was found to be a secondary publisher by making a post that created the opportunity for defamatory comments to be made. The Defendant argued that it would have been impractical for him to police and remove any defamatory comments (not surprising considering the comments ran for 190 pages) but the presiding Judge did not accept this position and found the Defendant liable for the defamatory comments.
You may ask why someone who does not make the comments should be held responsible. The reasoning for this stems back to who has control over social media posts. Ultimately, this control is held by those who create them. By posting something on social media you have the power to block these keyboard warriors and delete their comments. This undoubtedly gives you great power and with that power comes great responsibility. This responsibility requires you to do the right thing and ensure that people’s reputations are not mindlessly slaughtered, with your post being the catalyst.
It is only a matter of time now before the Australian Courts agree that the commenters or ’likers’ are also liable, just as the Courts have found in Zurich.