What classifies as defamation on social media?

Beverley Hadgraft exclusively interviews lawyer Mark Shumsky for Australian Seniors. 

We’ve all heard horror stories from both Australia and overseas about people stuck with huge legal fees for defaming someone on social media, but what are the real risks to be aware of? Mark Shumsky, a lawyer with Stacks Law Firm in NSW who specialises in defamation, says anyone who sends emails, posts on Facebook or Twitter, writes a blog or even leaves a comment on someone else’s feed can be regarded as a publisher. If they post anything defamatory, therefore, they can be subject to defamation proceedings.

The ease and speed with which offending comments can be shared online means barely a day passes when Mark does not receive a defamation complaint or request for help from someone accused of posting offensive material.

What are the problem areas?

  • Writing a defamatory review.
  • Failing to delete defamatory responses to a Facebook post.
  • Sending a group email that defames someone.     
  • Sharing a defamatory video or post on social media.
  • Writing an email that defames someone if that email is then distributed or re-posted online – even if the writer does not know or give permission for that repost.

Bad review or defamatory review?

In a world where we are constantly asked to leave reviews, does this mean we should not share bad experiences? “Many of my clients are business owners who want to know if they can stop someone saying their business is bad,” responds Mark. “The answer is a bad review that says someone doesn’t like you, your product or the way you do business is generally not defamatory. It’s someone expressing an honest opinion. However, if it’s untrue and causes harm to your reputation, that’s when it can be defamatory.”

Check every comment

So is it really important to check every comment on your Facebook page and every video you want to repost? The answer is yes. “If a court found you didn’t delete a comment or post that was clearly defamatory, you could be in strife.

“Certainly, I’d tell people to be cautious,” adds Mark. “Nine out of ten people might not bother pursuing something like a harmful review, but you never know who you’re dealing with.” 

You might also want to find out more facts, such as what happens to your social media profile after you die?

Defamation, what you need to know

Never share rumours, half-truths or innuendos on social media and do not post in anger.

  • Even if you defame a person and do not name them, if a third person can identify them – especially if you live in a small town – you could still be liable.
  • If someone else posts a comment on any of your feeds that you think could defame a third person, then delete it.

Get the latest take on trending issues in DARE magazine


This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered as individual legal advice.