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When Facebook posting leads to defamation: what you need to know

Posted by Melissa McGrath on 1 Feb 2021

Assisted by Elisabeth Krstanovski

Our increased use of social media has led many users to face various legal battles.

The case of Goldberg v Voigt [2020] NSWDC 174 explores an incident where a Sydney man, Bruce Goldberg, was awarded $35,000 in damages after the District Court of New South Wales found that he was defamed by a post made by Alice Voigt on the “Rose Bay Community – Original and Official Group Facebook Page”.

Facts

On 16 November 2018, Ms Voigt made a Facebook post on a Rose Bay Community Group page claiming that Mr Goldberg “intimidated, bullied and threatened women”. She continued with stating that “he finds where you live… he hand delivers mail to your house” and claimed that “it’s not slander if it’s true”. Ms Voigt also stated that “too many women have been killed by stalkers and unstable people to let this sort of stuff scare us”.

Within a day of the first post, Ms Voight wrote further posts which were also found to be defamatory.

Mr Goldberg filed a Statement of Claim, which was served on 7 March 2019. In her defence, Ms Voigt admitted to uploading the post but asserted that she removed the post on receipt of the Statement of Claim.

Findings

The Court found that the posts made by Ms Voigt were defamatory in many respects. Pursuant to section 34 of the Defamation Act 2005 (NSW), the court must ensure that there is “an appropriate relationship between the harm sustained by the plaintiff and the amount of damages awarded”.

Mr Goldberg said that he felt “shocked” and “speechless” when he read the post and that his reputation had been damaged. Although the Court found that the viewership of the post was on a lower scale, the Court held that “slight” aggravated damages should be awarded on the basis that subsequent posts were made by Ms Voigt.

Take home message

Defamation can arise from Facebook or other social media posts. If your business or organisation uses social media, be conscious of any responses to complaints made through that forum and the way they may be received. It is also important to be aware that your business (or you) does not have to put up with defamatory statements made on social media – take action quickly.

If you have any questions or concerns relating to any of the information in the blog or you require assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a lawyer in Coleman Greig’s Commercial Advice Team, who would be more than happy to assist you.

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