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Unproven Facebook Allegation Constitutes an Action in Defamation

A West Australian court has recently ordered a woman to pay damages to her estranged husband for a defamatory post made on her Facebook page last year.

Ms Robyn Greeuw declared via her own Facebook page that Mr Miro Dabrowski had abused her for a number of years during their relationship. Specifically, the post stated that Ms Greeuw “separated from Miro Dabrowski after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse.” The post remained visible for six weeks, and was seen by Mr Dabrowski’s new partner.

Mr Dabrowski then sued for defamation and the matter was heard in the West Australian District Court. Judge Michael Bowden’s judgment was published in December, wherein he considered that “the post caused Mr Dabrowski personal distress, humiliation and hurt and harm to his reputation.” His Honour held that Ms Greeuw failed to establish the truth of her representation, and she was made to pay $12,500 in damages.

Further to the outcome, the judge also found that the owner of a Facebook page has a duty to monitor the posts visible on their Facebook page. Although it was not elaborated upon, it is clear that businesses and individuals alike should take note of these remarks and remove any potentially defamatory material that appears on their page.

This case highlights the importance of remaining mindful of any representation made online, particularly through social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

It is clear that posts made via Facebook can amount to a costly defamation case. However, it is not only Facebook posts that attract such scrutiny. Here are a few matters to consider when using the Internet to communicate information.

  1. Anything you make available online is a ‘publication’ for the purposes of defamation;
  2. Free speech is not an absolute right in Australia, and must be qualified. In general, malicious rumours, innuendo and half-truths are not viewed favourably by the courts; and
  3. If you do happen to make a statement that straddles the divide between permissible and defamatory, ensure one of the accepted legal defences apply.

Ultimately, when making a statement online about another, whether on Facebook or any other medium, be mindful to avoid anything that could be interpreted as being defamatory. If you do feel the need to represent something that could be taken as defamatory, it is vital to ensure that a legal defence applies, such as fact, honest opinion or fair report of public information, among others.