Instagram Defamation and Social Media Law

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The various social media platforms have taken over our lives in many ways. Some beneficial and some negative.

With technology at our fingertips and easily accessible, the temptation of posting something quickly, without thinking or considering the consequences seems to be a part of everyday life now.

However, the consequences can be significant, long lasting, and costly.

With the proliferation of social networking sites such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and various review sites people often don’t think of the consequences of a comment which can lead to an action of defamation.

There is also a belief that because it is a closed or member only site, they are protected, which is totally wrong.

Another misconception is that you are not liable if it is reposted by someone else, again totally wrong.

In recent years the number of cases relating to defamation actions because of comments posted on these sites has increased significantly.

In a recent case in Queensland, the court awarded $82,500 in damages to a cosmetic surgery clinic because of a former employee’s post on her Instagram story regarding the owners (BeautyFULL CMC Pty Ltd & Ors v Hayes [2021] QDC 111)

It is a very interesting outcome as an Instagram story post is only visible on the platform for a period of 24 hours.

The clinic posted a photograph on its Instagram account of the founding director and two staff in their uniforms, with the caption:

“Dr Margaret, Nurse Kate and Nurse Kayleigh serving during COVID-19”.

The former employee uploaded the photograph to her Instagram preempting it by saying she was not naming and shaming but:

“when I see a company upload a FAKE photo that a medical practitioner is going to work on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis, it’s disgusting and disrespectful to the people who are actually putting their lives at risk to save others”.

“I would love to thank the REAL hero’s [sic] that are working day and night to save lives. Coronavirus (COVID-19) it’s such a serious situation that I don’t understand why a company would lie about it.”

The former employee’s lawyers argued the defence of truth, however the former employee did not give evidence at the trial.

Therefore, the defence of truth could clearly not be supported and therefore the inference could be accepted that it was not in fact the truth.

The judge said that whilst the former employee stated she did not want to ‘name and shame’, the fact was that it was exactly what her Instagram post was designed to do. 

The post could have only been meant to cause intentional harm and distress.

The judge said that the former employee was motivated by “unexplained anger and resentment” towards the clinic and the posts were “intentionally false” with no basis.

The judge accepted that the clinic suffered loss of business reputation because of the defamatory Instagram post.

The former employee had an Instagram account with just 1,844 followers.

The clinic’s Instagram account had 19,700 followers.

The lesson here is that no matter what you post, it will have consequences.

The damage to a business, as with individuals, can be significant and without any foundation.

As the law continues to develop and evolve around social media there is no doubt, we will see more defamation cases with the potential of large awards of compensation.

Need help with Instagram defamation or social media law?

At FC Lawyers we have an expert team of lawyers who have acted for both individuals, businesses, and organisations in relation to defamation proceedings.

We understand it can be a very stressful time when your reputation is on the line.

Contact our experienced team today to discuss your concerns or if you need assistance with Instagram defamation or social media law.

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