a lesson from Douglas v McLernon

The decision of Justice Martin in Douglas v McLernon [No 4] [2016] WASC 320 serves as a reminder to us all that our behaviour online is not immune from legal action.

Defamation occurs when false information about a person is spread on purpose to a person or group of people, which causes damage to that person’s reputation or makes others think less of them.

The tort of defamation has been around for much longer than social media but the same rules apply whether it occurs on the internet, in newspapers or photographs, or on television.

In Douglas v McLernon, Mr McLernon made a number of posts on various websites about Mr Douglas.  Mr McLernon was found to have engaged in defamation by falsely publishing that the plaintiff had, amongst other things:

  • threatened women and children;
  • associated with criminals and had been convicted of criminal offences;
  • stolen money;
  • was corrupt;
  • engaged in fraud; and
  • hindered the investigations of ASIC.

As a result of this, Mr McLernon was permanently restrained from making defamatory posts about the plaintiff online and was ordered to pay $700,000.00 in damages.  In our view it wouldn’t matter if the posts were made on third party websites like Facebook or Twitter.

Things to Remember

  • A Facebook comment or tweet which you consider to be harmless or a joke may be considered defamatory by someone else.
  • Comments written online to a particular group of individuals may well be copied and passed on to others, so be careful what you say about people.
  • A person who re-posts or shares defamatory material written by someone else may also be liable for defamation.
  • If you are unsure whether something is defamatory, do not put it online.

If someone has been making defamatory posts about you online, or you have been accused of defamation, please contact our office on (07) 4963 2000 or via our online contact form.

Lara Tom
Solicitor
Litigation & Dispute Resolution