$105K defamatory tweet – implications for employers

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A recent defamation case in NSW that resulted in a former high school student paying $105,000 in damages for defaming a teacher on social media has significant implications not only for employers but also for the wider community.

District Court judge Michael Elkaim ruled the former Orange High School student should pay compensatory and aggravated damages for making false allegations about a music teacher at the school on Twitter and Facebook.

‘‘When defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread,’’ Justice Elkaim said in his judgment, which was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘‘They are spread easily by the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers. Their evil lies in the grapevine effect that stems from the use of this type of communication.’’

The former student made a series of defamatory comments about the teacher who replaced the former student’s father as a music teacher on an acting basis.

‘‘For some reason it seems that the defendant bears a grudge against the plaintiff, apparently based on a belief that she had something to do with his father leaving the school,’’ Justice Elkaim said.

This is the first Twitter defamation case in Australia that has proceeded to full trial.

Notwithstanding the fact that in this case it was a teacher who was defamed by a student, this case (and others involving Facebook) makes it abundantly clear that  employers must have clear social media policies in place that deal, both with the personal use of social media by staff members, as well as the use of any social media accounts that an employer has established in its own name.

And as is always the case with enforcing governance initiatives it is not enough just to publish a policy and hope for the best, employers must also take steps to ensure that all of their staff get social media training and that records of that training are maintained.

For more information with respect to how best to manage social media risks refer to CompliSpace’s eBook An Employer’s Guide to Managing Social Media Risks.

How CompliSpace can help

CompliSpace combines specialist governance, risk and compliance consulting services with practical, technology-enabled solutions.

If you are looking to update your existing governance, risk or compliance programs and make them more relevant to your organisation, contact us via the details below:

P: 1300 132 090

E:  contactus@complispace.com.au

W: www.complispace.com.au

This blog is a guide to keep readers updated with the latest information. It is not intended as legal advice or as advice that should be relied on by readers. The information contained in this blog may have been updated since its posting, or it may not apply in all circumstances. If you require specific or legal advice, please contact us on (02) 9299 6105 and we will be happy to assist.

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