A law expert is warning of the dangers of defamation and bullying on social media.
A law expert is warning of the dangers of defamation and bullying on social media.

EXPLAINED: Why you can be sued over your Facebook posts

SOCIAL media users who attack or defame people can be taken to court and sued under both civil and Commonwealth law, says a Central Queensland University law specialist.

CQUni Law co-ordinator and Lecturer Lance Rundle said there had been cases in Australia where people have been awarded tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars over defamatory social media posts.

A qualified solicitor, Mr Rundle said social media was a minefield of potential litigation.

"They can be sued, they can be taken to court," he said.

"If the post defames a person's character, or says something that is untrue about them, and if that post is then read by people and made public, so people can see it, then a person can be sued for defamation.

"There is even more of a danger for the person who makes the (defamatory) posts, if they do it repetitively, or if they say something in the post that is threatening or could be considered as menacing or harassing.

"That tends to be repeated posts, and they can actually be charged with a Commonwealth crimes offence, which is to use a carriage service to menace, harass or threaten someone."

Defamation is publishing untrue statements about people that reduce the opinion of them in other people's eyes.

"Defamation is a civil claim, where people can be sued and have damages awarded against them," Mr Rundle said.

"So it could be tens of thousands or potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"But if it is something they are doing repetitively they could also open themselves to be charged with a Commonwealth criminal charge."


Central Queensland University Law lecturer and solicitor Lance Rundle.
Central Queensland University Law lecturer and solicitor Lance Rundle.


Mr Rundle said many people didn't know the implications of attacking people on social media.

"There have been many cases where people have gone onto Facebook or they have gone onto other social media and they've repetitively said things that are untrue, that they have been charged with a criminal offence," he said.

Gathering the evidence, Mr Rundle said, was very important.

"What people should do is they should screenshot the post, therefore get a copy of the post," he said

"Because if I went on your Facebook or Instagram or Twitter account and if I post something, I can then go and change my mind 10 minutes later and delete it.

"So as a lawyer, I say to people all the time, as soon as you read this online, take a screen shot of it."

Threats to life can be escalated through the police.

"If there is a threat to life, the police can actually trace it, they can go to the internet service provider and trace it back to the person's home," he said.

"They can then get a search warrant to seize your phone, to seize your laptop or computer, to get the evidence that it has come from that device.

"But even in terms of civil law, their name is there, their picture is there, so a lawyer can issue a subpoena over their devices and could potentially have the evidence to get access to their electronic records, their electronic devices."

Mr Rundle said he had some sensible advice for every social media user.

"Avoid posting anything online that you wouldn't ordinarily say to someone in the kitchen or in the workplace," he said.

"Particularly over the last few months with coronavirus, everyone has just gone crazy, and people are just sitting behind a keyboard and have become so outspoken.

"For some reason, on Facebook, sitting behind a computer screen or sitting on your phone, people are saying and doing things that they wouldn't ordinarily do, which can be extremely dangerous and get them into a lot of trouble."