Social Media Defamation Real Life Case Examples

Social media defamation is when a person publishes information on a social media platform about another person, group or business that damages their reputation and encourages others to think less of them.

Anyone can be considered a publisher these days and social media makes that incredibly easy to do.

We’ve covered social media defamation in one of our previous blog articles which you can read here.

Real life case examples of social media defamation serve as cautionary tales for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. Let’s explore some of these cases below.

 

YouTube

In 2021 former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro sued Mr Shanks, better known as friendlyjordies, in the Federal Court over a series of videos published on YouTube last year. The parties later settled.

No damages were paid to Mr Barilaro but Mr Shanks agreed to edit two social media videos to remove content that Mr Barilaro claimed was “offensive”.

Mr Shanks’s barrister, Matt Collins QC, read out a statement on behalf of his client after the court heard the matter saying:

“Freedom of expression for political communication is important, but Mr Shanks accepts that some of the videos posted were offensive to Mr Barilaro. Mr Shanks understands that Mr Barilaro has been hurt and apologises to him for that hurt.”

You can read more here.

While Barilaro settled with Mr Shanks, Google was later ordered to pay him $715,000 after failing to remove the defamatory videos from YouTube.

Both Google and Mr Shanks were respondents in the case made by Barilaro. After Mr Shanks and Barilaro settled, Google persisted with its defence. However, in the weeks leading up to the trial, it progressively abandoned all of its defences.

Justice Rares concluded that ‘Google made a considered decision to keep the [videos] available on YouTube from 22 December 2020, knowing of their content and Mr Barilaro’s complaints… Having regard to all of the evidence, the gravity of the imputations, the harm to Mr Barilaro’s feelings and reputation, Google’s significant aggravation of the damage and the need to vindicate Mr Barilaro’s reputation, I consider that he is entitled to judgment in the sum of $675,000. He is also entitled to prejudgment interest from 22 December 2020 of $40,000.’

 

An Online Petition and Facebook Group

In 2020 Tambourine Mountain State High School principal Tracey Brose sued some school parents for making defamatory comments about her in the comments section of a Change.Org petition and private Facebook group.

One of the couples who refused to apologise for their defamatory comments ended up bankrupt and lost their house to their lawyer.

After dragging on for four years, Tracey Brose won her defamation case against two of the eight parents she originally sued for online comments made about her.

When Brose was first made aware of the defamatory comments online, she hired a lawyer to give the parents involved a simple solution; apologise or be sued for defamation.

Four parents later apologised and/or settled out of court for a total of $182,500.

Four others, including Donna and Miguel Baluskas, refused to do so and went through court. Two parents were found to have not defamed Ms.Brose but said they “lost everything” as the court case dragged on for years.

Judge Muir awarded Ms Brose $6,000 in damages from the Baluskas couple and for each party to pay their own legal costs which Ms Brose estimated to be around $600,000.

Watch this 60 Minutes episode for the full story. 60 Minutes described it as “a few key strokes late one night have cost nearly $1,000,000 in legal fees and damages.”

It highlights the very real consequences of posting defamatory comments online.

60 Minutes Episode can be watched below.

 

Twitter (Now Known as ‘X’)

In 2014, NSW school teacher Christine Mickle made legal history after former student Andrew Farley was ordered to pay $105,000 for defaming her on Twitter and Facebook. The former student posted a series of defamatory tweets and Facebook posts about Ms Mickle who took over his father’s teaching job on an acting basis.

This was the first defamation case involving Twitter in Australia.

You can read more here.

 

Instagram

In 2021 a court awarded $82,500 in damages to the owners of a cosmetic surgery clinic in what was thought to be Australia’s first judgment involving defamation in an instagram story. In the Brisbane District Court, Judge Reid found former Beautiful Cosmetic Medical Clinic employee Clare Hayes defamed the clinic’s owners in a story she posted to Instagram.

 

Online Reviews

In 2018 we shared the story of Carrie Curtis (nee Barlow) and her former vet Dr. Allen O’Grady.

At the time, Carrie had been fighting a defamation case brought against her by Dr. Allen O’Grady for 4 years, at a personal cost of $100,000 before even going to trial.

Her online reviews of the veterinary practice were left after having a heated discussion with the vet, querying her recent vet bill. She told O’Grady’s practice that she was going to take her business elsewhere and later received a letter from the vets stating they would no longer be able to provide any services to her pet in future.

Posting a picture of the letter and her personal opinion of the situation, she shared reviews on TrueLocal and Twitter.

A few days later Ms. Barlow received another letter from her vet demanding she remove the posts, issue a public apology and pay a sum of $6,300.

She said she was willing to apologise but not pay the sum of $6,300 and removed some of the posts. She then received a follow up letter demanding $17,000 from O’Grady’s lawyers before later being sued for defamation and a total of $100,000 in damages.

In 2020 Judge Sheridan ordered Ms Curtis pay Mr O’Grady and his businesses a total of $25,000 in damages, including aggravated damages, plus $4244.29 interest.

She said Ms Curtis had “persisted in pursuing the (failed) defence of justification and maintained at trial that the company and Mr O’Grady had overcharged and had engaged in unfair business practices”.

 

Cheng v Lok

In 2020 the Supreme Court of South Australia awarded barrister Gordon Cheng $750,000 in damages after a woman named Isobel Lok posted a false, negative review on ‘Google My Business.’ Mr Cheng was able to show the court his income had decreased by 80% after the negative review was posted.

 

Facebook

In 2016, Heather Reid, the former executive of a Canberra football organisation was awarded $180,000 in damages after a coach made defamatory posts about her on Facebook.

 

Special Mention (One of Our Own) – A Litton Legal Case

In 2018, our principal solicitor Rebecca acted as instructing solicitor for barrister Justin Castelan on a local defamation case for prominent Albury businesswoman Maree Cables. Cables was the franchisee for 8 McDonalds stores in the Albury/Wodonga area and was instrumental in establishing the Ronald McDonald House in 2010, a charitable organisation that assists families with sick children.

She was chair of Arts Albury and considered by McDonalds Head Office to be such a commendable franchisee that she was asked to take over struggling stores in Tumult and Yass which she did.

On 21st November 2016 the defendant in Cables’ defamation case, who was an administrator on Facebook page ‘Everything Albury Wodonga,’ published a post seeking negative comments about Ms.Cables. The group had 9,500 followers and further negative and anonymous comments were published seeking to get Ms.Cables into trouble with McDonalds Head Office.

McDonalds head office did take an interest in these allegations and flew investigators in to interview staff and customers before entering into negotiations with Ms.Cables for her to sell her stores. McDonalds never issued any breach notices to Ms.Cables however, indicating that the Facebook claims were baseless.

The defamatory Facebook posts were of a serious nature containing entirely false allegations about her and caused significant emotional distress and damage.

She was awarded $200,000 in damages, which at the time was the highest payout so far in Australia in respect of a Facebook publication.

 

 

At Litton Legal we’re experts in Defamation Law. If your reputation has been damaged, we can help. Contact our friendly team here.