A WOMAN has been ordered to pay $12,500 to her estranged husband after she defamed him on Facebook by accusing him of subjecting her to years of abuse.
In the latest of a growing number of cases over defamatory comments on social media, Bunbury school teacher Miro Dabrowski sued his estranged wife, Robyn Greeuw, over a December 2012 Facebook post.
The post, which remained on her Facebook page for about six weeks, said she had “separated from Miro Dabrowski after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse.”
West Australian District Court Judge Michael Bowden ruled in Mr Dabrowski’s favour, saying Ms Greeuw had not proved the comments were true. However, he also found that parts of Mr Dabrowski’s evidence “lacked credibility.”
Jennifer Irwin, principal of JIP Legal, based in Melbourne, told Fairfax Media the legalities of what was published on social media was a “Pandora’s box”.
She said this case was likely just the beginning of a raft of social media matters to front Australian courts.
“People have forgotten that Facebook is a public forum and you need to be mindful that if you wouldn’t publish it in a newspaper, you shouldn't put it on Facebook,” Ms Irwin said.
“I think we are going to start seeing more and more of these sorts of cases.
“It’s a Pandora’s Box – we are really just starting to see the beginning of it.
“The internet is so instant, people have a thought, write it and publish. But it’s not just limited to their friends seeing it, I think people are forgetting that aspect.”
Like in the Bunbury case, if someone feels their reputation has in any way been damaged as a result of something said on social media, the person responsible can be taken to court for defamation.
Ms Irwin said the internet had made the process of publishing information much faster and easier but people should still make considered decsisions before publishing, whether it be in a publication or online.
“Prior to the internet you would have to write something, post it in the mail and get someone willing to agree to publish your comments,” she said.
Ms Irwin suggested those about to post something based on emotions, should “sit on it for a day, then re-read it when you are calm and consider whether it should really be posted”.
“Once it’s published it’s there forever, you’ve lost control once it’s published,” she said.
“Even if you take it down later people may have taken a photo or a screenshot or shared, forwarded or retweeted it.”
Ms Irwin urged people to check their privacy settings to reduce the amount of people who can see content they post on social media.
She said people also needed to think twice about sharing other people’s content.
“Retweeting information is one you have to be careful with,” she said.
“If you retweet something you are exposing yourself to a potential defamation claim.”
She said disclaimers on profile or on tweets really meant little in terms of whether someone can be held liable for defamation.
Ms Irwin also highlighted the risks of hosting online discussions, which can be as simple as a business or organisation having a Facebook page, which allows comments to be made on posts on their wall.
She said people should regularaly monitor what people post to their social media accounts and create a procedure for considering whether posts are acceptable.