PSYCHOLOGISTS WILL TELL US NOT TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE SAY: STICKS AND STONES, THEY SAY. DON’T BE INSECURE. ITS NOT YOUR MOTHER’S FAULT. BUT IN TODAY’S WORLD, PERCEPTION IS REALITY. NO LONGER IS IT JUST A PERSON’S CHARACTER THAT IS IMPORTANT.
More so than ever before, it is about what other people think of that person’s character. And like it or not, what people think can be manipulated by publication, and if that consists of a bunch of lies, well that is the new reality.
The internet is the greatest human invention of the age. It has become a defining force that binds the planet. In two short decades, ordinary people have assumed publication power beyond the dreams of the most powerful kings. Eighty percent of the population of North America are on the internet, sixty-eight percent of Australia and sixty-three percent of Europe.
In 2014, users went past two point nine billion.
And all of those 2.9 billion people now have access to information on everything, at any time. Any person can search for whatever they like without opening a book, asking a professor or leaving their front door. Then they can publish whatever to whoever whenever. So while the Fourth Estate engage lawyers to vet their material before it is broadcast on television or written in newspapers, on the internet, this just doesn’t happen.
The web is an information jungle and this means a defamation minefield. And who is it a minefield for?
Well, the internet opens up a whole array of potential new defamation defendants: Internet Service Providers, search engine operators, chatroom organisers, strange and obsessive people whose opinions would not have otherwise seen the light of day and everyday social media users of all ages.
In 2005, Uniform Defamation Acts were passed into law throughout Australia. It was claimed that this meant the end of defamation trials. The changes were friendly for the media and the damages were capped.
Back then, Mark Zuckerberg was a smart kid at Harvard who was pretty good at programming. But now, social media has taken over, Zuckerberg is richer than the Queen and lawyers are spending days trying to identify authors of anonymous blogs who use lots of exclamation marks.
Anonymous bloggers can no longer defame people without a consequence. In 2012, Yahoo! and Google were each ordered by the Victorian Supreme Court to pay damages of $225,000 and $200,000 to the one person. They were treated as publishers of their search engine results, so once Google and Facebook know of the existence of defamatory material to which they are linking to (whoever posted it), they can be liable for it. In 2014, cases continued to be brought against Google around the world and also against Facebook and Twitter users. Whether aged 18 or 77, unsuspecting users had six figure verdicts levelled against them in the last 12 months.
Meanwhile, the tort of privacy, though not yet born, appears to be on the cusp. This site relates largely to Australian defamation law, but will also touch on cases from elsewhere and the developing law of privacy. It is hoped to be a useful tool for those who practice in defamation, those who work or study in the media and those who live in chatrooms. Good luck, feel free to comment and please, don’t call anyone a liar unless you can prove it.
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