Warning over naming and shaming on social media

Photo: Shutterstock.
Photo: Shutterstock.

An Esperance man has issued a stark warning to social media users about the dangers of naming and shaming people online, after he fell victim to baseless public allegations that he was a poor parent.

On August 9, Warren Harvey said he was bombarded by messages from concerned friends and family while he was at work after they saw a post about him on the Esperance Name and Shame Facebook Page.

The post, which allegedly contained inaccurate information about both Mr Harvey and his child, was approved by a moderator before it became visible to the page's 6300 members.

Mr Harvey contacted both the page's administrator and a moderator, asking them to remove the post because he believed it was damaging, factually incorrect and did not comply with the rules of the page.

The post was removed, but his questions about its protocols went unanswered.

"If you've volunteered to be the administrator of that page, you're like a watchdog, a guardian that determines what should and shouldn't be posted," Mr Harvey said.

"They may not be the author, but they're the ones who accept or reject the posts, yet they're not willing to accept criticism or accountability.

"There are things published on there about people's private lives and businesses and some of it is completely ludicrous.

"I know the majority of people aren't going to believe it, but it still causes undue stress, unnecessary stress."

When the Esperance Express attempted to contact the page's administrator, it was told they were made administrator without their knowledge and they were trying to delete the page.

Several hours later, the page, which has existed since 2014, was deleted.

However, the following day, a similar page surfaced.

I know the majority of people aren't going to believe it, but it still causes undue stress, unnecessary stress.

Esperance man Warren Harvey.

Curtin University media law expert Joseph Fernandez urged people to think carefully about what they chose to publish, confirming that both a post writer and those who publish a post could be held liable for the defamatory comments made on it.

"People often take full advantage of their freedom of expression rights and invite problems when they misunderstand the extent of their freedom to speak out, particularly when the attack on other individuals is unjustified or unsupported by facts," he said.

"Those individuals whose reputations have been damaged do have opportunities under the law to seek redress.

"This not only applies to the person that posted the material, the person who reposts the material is also in the firing line.

"It's not enough for the operator or the web platform to say that they didn't say it.

"It's long been established that whoever publishes the defamatory matter is also liable for the defamation.

"The speaker of the defamatory material, the writer and the individual that allows the material to be published on their platform is also considered liable.

"Publishers like to consider themselves merely facilitators of other people's conversations, but are somewhat limited in how much they can seek to wash their hands of the liability."

Referencing the recent Dylan Voller case, which saw three media outlets found guilty for defamatory comments on its posts, Mr Fernandez said the courts were prepared to place blame on the publisher of the comment or post, including those that may say they were completely unaware that the post existed on their page.

Although he admitted the ordeal had been stressful, Mr Harvey said he remained grateful for the support of family, friends and members of the community and urged people to think twice before publicly shaming people and businesses.

"If you're not happy with a business, you have many other choices than publicly naming and shaming them," he said.

"I think that one of the things we need to ask ourselves as a community is 'if what I'm writing was about me, would I want everyone to see it?'.

"A lot of good businesses have been [shamed], but it's not about whether it affects the viability of their business, it's about how it impacts them personally."

This story Warning over naming and shaming on social media first appeared on The Esperance Express.