Legal eagles all a twitter: 'highlights the evil that lies in social media'

A COURT ruling against an Orange man who defamed an Orange High School teacher on Twitter and Facebook is a wake-up call to people who use social media.

Solicitor Philip Boncardo says Twitter has the capacity to spiral quickly out of control where defamatory comments can be re-tweeted in a short space of time to tens of thousands of followers.

He says this type of exposure to derogatory comments will eventually impact on any costs awarded in favour of someone who has been defamed due to the number of people who have seen the tweet.

Mr Boncardo said when criticising a business or service on social media it was often harder to prove defamation in a court of law as it did not involve an individual such as a manager or employee.

“I use Facebook but I don’t use Twitter - even at university when my friends began using it I steered away,” he said.

Mr Boncardo said although people had the ability to change their profile settings on Facebook, which could limit potential defamation, they needed to be cautious about their posts and take on board the findings against Andrew Farley who now has to pay $105,000 in damages to Orange High School teacher Chris Mickle.

STORY: ORANGE HIGH STUDENT'S TWEET ABOUT TEACHER COSTS $105,000

Orange solicitor David King-Christopher said the ruling was significant and could now “open the floodgates”.

“This judgment highlights the evil that lies in social media communication,” he said.

He said until the  court ruling against Farley, people who had been defamed hadn’t been able to get a great deal of traction through legal challenges.

“In Queensland I represented a number of rugby league players who were constantly being defamed on social media and it was difficult, but now this ruling and damages will set a precedent,” he said.

As the father of a teenager and two senior primary school students, Mr King-Christopher said all parents faced the challenge of denying their teenagers access to social media.

“It is a problem because parents need to realise it can expose them to unwanted and unknown criticisms by others,” he said.

“And you can’t control what someone puts on social media unless you are looking over their shoulder.”

Both solicitors said an interesting aspect of the case was Farley not turning up at court for the hearing for damages awarded to Mrs Mickle.

janice.harris@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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