An Australian couple was hit with a $15,000 legal bill after making comments about their neighbour’s dogs on a community Facebook page.
Principal at Cove Legal, Roger Blow, said the case served as a warning that people were directed by social media into a false sense of security. “Individuals often think on-line defamation is seen as less important in the legal context due to the feelings of disconnect derived from using social media.” “People are much less concerned with damaging the feelings of someone they’ll likely never meet.” Mr Blow said, where the defamation took place, in the legal context, it did not matter. “You just need to reveal the publication of the statement and show that it is likely to cause the normal reader to believe less of the character of the individual in question,” he said.
More than anything, individuals needed to be cautious because legal proceedings over online defamation were often a protracted, complex and expensive legal process, he said. “Victims and protagonists equally must decide how much they are willing to spend to bring or defend defamation proceedings. There’s a good reason why such claims are usually only brought by celebrities with deep pockets,” Mr Blow said.
The commotion began when his wife Annette and Matt Palmer discovered a succession of posters strategically plastered in public areas of Scotland Island — an exclusive island situated 30km north of Sydney in Pittwater.
It comprised a photo of resident Nader Mohareb and a description that promised the Egyptian-born guy was “a highly explosive person, prone to manic outbursts … often abusive and threatening, especially towards women and kids”, Fairfax reported.
In his statement of claim, Mr Mohareb asserted the Facebook post suggested he was psychologically unstable, contemptuous of approved social customs and decorum, has a history of violence and should be prevented by member of the community.
Regardless of the place being removed by Hubert Van Mierlo, the administrator of the webpage, Mr Mohareb sued for defamation the couple after he maintained the post made false accusations, which damaged his reputation within the community.
After months of tension, a deed was executed following settlement negations between both of the parties. Mr Mohareb would drop the case if an apology was posted by the Palmers on the Scotland Island Community Facebook page. An apology post was composed, but was removed following the page’s moderator deleted it, unaware it was part of the settlement agreement reached between the two parties. The apology was reinstated before being taken down from the social networking page again, after being live for only several short hours.
Mr Mohareb infuriated and he decided to return the matter to the courts. A third apology was posted, but because of a typo in Mr Mohareb’s name it was removed once more before a final and fourth apology went live in May.
The saga finally came to an end late last month with District Court Judge Judith Gibson ruling the matter had no need to go further because the latest apology was live for just two months.
Following the decision, the Palmers sought a lump sum prices order of $14,721, but according to Fairfax, it was after she denyed denied claimed they were at fault for the removal of some of the apologies.
“These were serious defamations … the defendants’ failure to do their part of the bargain made the plaintiff justifiably suspicious,” Judge Gibson said. She included discounting the case in return for a public apology meant the settlement was already a fantastic result for the couple.
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