Social media defamation cases soar

The Q&A Twitter handle incident this week has sparked conversation about the growing number of defamation cases involving social media posts.

Social media defamation cases are on the increase, with around half enquires received last financial year by law firm Slater and Gordon relating to social media posts.

The discussion follows outrage on the ABC’s Q&A program, where a vulgar Twitter handle referencing the Prime Minister was aired.

Lawyers are warning people to think before they tweet.

“Almost half of the defamation inquiries received by Slater and Gordon in the last financial year were related to material posted on social media,” defamation lawyer Jeremy Zimet told the ABC yesterday.

“Of those, almost 43 per cent were related to Facebook posts, with the remainder being relevant to Twitter, Instagram or otherwise general internet publications.”

Zimet told the ABC that while he believes this particular handle to be more abusive than defamatory, he believes it is possible for a Twitter handle defame someone and re-publishers, such as the ABC to be found liable.

The ability to reach a broad audience with social media has opened up defamation over recent years, making defamatory comments potentially more damaging than they once were.

“You shouldn't be doing or saying things that you wouldn't say, [or] that you wouldn't want printed on the front page of a major daily newspaper,” solicitor and RMIT lecturer Dr Mark Williams said.

“Perhaps it's more serious because in the case of a lot of social media it's going directly to the group that have an interest in a particular matter, and the other thing of course it remains searchable and very hard to delete.”

“It depends really on the type of publication and the forum,” Zimet said, adding that he thinks it is very likely we will continue to see cases of potentially defamatory material republished from social media.

"Obviously a publication with very serious stings, or very serious imputations, combined with a large target audience, are going to attract those forms of higher level damages."

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