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Are you liable for defamatory comments left on your social media posts?

Social media posts caught by defamation law

The recent decision of the District Court of South Australia, Johnston v Aldridge [2018] SADC 68, has broadened the scope of defamation law so that a person can be held liable for the defamatory comments left on the original person’s post.

In Johnston v Aldridge, the Court held that the Defendant’s Facebook post and the approximately 4,500 comments that followed the Defendant’s post were defamatory. The Plaintiff was awarded damages at $100,000.

The Court considered that the Defendant was a ‘secondary’ publisher of the defamatory material within the comments.


Original poster created opportunity for defamatory comments

The Defendant was held to have “participated” in the publication of further comments as the Defendant had published the initial Facebook post which had created the opportunity for other social media users to write such comments.

As the Defendant had provided the platform on which defamatory comments could be published, the Court held that the Defendant had also assumed the responsibility to monitor the content of the comments left of his Facebook post and to “remove those which were inappropriate or suffer the consequences irrespective of the inconvenience involved”.

Despite arguments put forward by the Defendant, the Court considered the Defendant ought to have overseen the comments. This was especially the case as the Court held that the Defendant’s initial post was likely to lead to other social media users posting “inappropriate comments” about the Plaintiff.

The Court stated that the comments left on the Defendant’s Facebook post by other social media users were nothing more than “vulgar abuse” that “emphasised and adopted the defamatory imputations carried by the post itself”.


Social media users need to keep a watch on comments

Following this decision of the District Court of South Australia, social media users need to keep a careful watch on the response and reaction of others to any published post, particularly in circumstances where the initial post may be defamatory in and of itself.



This article was written by Lucille Moala, solicitor at Bell Legal Group. It is general in nature, is not legal advice and must not be relied on as such. If you need assistance relating to the topics discussed, please contact us to obtain advice specific to your circumstances. Call 07 5597 3366 or use the contact form below.