When does online bullying become defamation?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Online bullying has gone viral and many experience defamation, but few know their legal position or ways to effectively manage it.

If a photo or statement has been published, whether in print or online, or a nasty email about you has been sent out to your work colleagues, you may feel as though there is nothing you can do.

However, if the published material harms your reputation or causes hatred and ridicule, you may have a right to sue for defamation.

What is defamation?

With the expanding scope of the internet, and the immediate rate at which information can be shared, online publications and statements are an easy and accessible publishing platform.

But when is the line crossed between freedom of expression and defamation?

Defamation can be defined as imputations that create a negative opinion of a person to whom the defamatory statements can clearly relate.

The Defamation Act 2005 (Qld) (“the Act”) abolished the distinction between libel and slander, however the general law determines the circumstances in which a cause of action may exist.

What is online bullying?

Bullying is the repeated unfavourable treatment of a person which is unreasonable and inappropriate, usually to torment, tease, humiliate or offend a person.  The reliance on and accessibility of technology means that bullying can now occur online, the impact of which is almost immediate.

However, not all instances of online bullying automatically allow an aggrieved person a claim in defamation.  A claim for defamation requires the plaintiff (the aggrieved party) to establish that the matter complained of:

  • was published to at least one third party,
  • specifically related to the plaintiff, and
  • was defamatory.

What practical steps should I take?

If you believe that you are a victim of online bullying, or unfavourable statements have been made about you online, you should contact the site administrator and request that the post/statement be removed.

Alternatively, and if the circumstances allow, you can directly seek that the publisher remove the matter complained of.

What are the next steps?

A claim for defamation must be brought within one year from the date of the publication of the matter complained of.  However, prior to commencing proceedings for a claim in defamation, the aggrieved party is required to comply with requirements of the Act by issuing a notice, and allow the publisher sufficient time to respond to the notice.

How we can help

Just as easily as content can be published online, the damage to a person’s reputation may have already occurred. Simply removing the publication may be insufficient to redress the damage to reputation.  That is when you should contact us at Quinn & Scattini Lawyers.

Why choose us?

You will be talking to a real expert, local to you.  You will not be treated like another file number, but as a real person, and a person going through a difficult and stressful experience.  Get expert advice, not just what you want to hear, in a language you can understand, not legal jargon.

Office locations

Q&S’s expert defamation lawyers are available at any of Q&S’s seven office locations.

Beenleigh | Brisbane CBD | Caboolture | Cleveland | Gold Coast | Ipswich | Jimboomba

Still need answers?

Submit an online enquiry below or call 1800 999 529.

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