WITH the rise in use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general comes the burden of users unintentionally subjecting themselves to defamation action.
In days gone by, defamation law suits were usually reserved for newspapers, television and radio programs as they had a wider reach of readers or listeners.
However, as director of Toowoomba legal firm Creevey Russell Lawyers, Dan Creevey, explained, through Facebook and Twitter people other than journalists had a greater reach of readers than ever before.
"In a few short seconds, we can write a statement and broadcast it to the world," he said.
"This gives us all great power to influence a large audience at the tips of our fingers.
"However, this reach does not come without its perils. One ill-thought tweet or passion-fuelled, hastily thought out Facebook update can have dire consequences for unwitting users of social media."
Defamation is defined as "a statement which lowers the standing of a person who is the subject of the defamatory statement in the estimations of the ordinary members of our society".
Basically, any statement about someone that causes another person to think less of that person is defamation and already some social media users have had to fork out big bucks as a result of unwittingly defaming someone.
"To compensate victims of defamation, courts look at the distress, humiliation and hurt and harm to the reputation of the victim of defamation," Mr Creevey said.
"The more defamatory the comment and the wider the audience..., the larger the compensation the courts will award the victim and it is to this end where social media really comes into its own."
Mr Creevey pointed to a case in New South Wales in which a then 20-year-old man had made what the court found to be defamatory remarks on social media against a teacher at his former school.
It appeared the man held a grudge against the woman teacher who he blamed for having something to do with his father, also a teacher at the school, having to leave the school.
The court found in favour of the woman to the sum of $105,000 against the young man who made the comments on social media.
Of course, not all defamatory statements are open to compensation.
If the particular statement can be shown to be ostensibly true, then the person who made the statement has a defence.
Mr Creevey also warned against retweeting or sharing Facebook posts which could be defamatory.
"The way in which social media can spread through other members sharing content means what started out as a spark, quickly turns into a bushfire."
Forwarding what could be found to be defamatory emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, etc could leave those people open to defamation action just as much as the person responsible for the original statement.
"It is for this reason, people should be particularly cautious when communicating messages through social media," Mr Creevey said.
"A defamatory comment which was originally posted to 100 social media followers can quickly spread throughout the internet, causing immense damage to a victim's reputation - and a perpetrators hip pocket."