The District Court of South Australia has held that a person can be held liable for the defamatory comments made by other social media users following that person’s original social media post.

In the case of Johnston v Aldridge[2018] SADC 68, the Court awarded the Plaintiff damages of $100,000 (inclusive of aggravated damages), after the Plaintiff successfully argued that not only was the Defendant’s initial Facebook post concerning the Plaintiff defamatory, but so too were some of the approximately 4,500 comments that followed the Defendant’s post.
The Court held although these comments were not authored by the Defendant they were attributable to the Defendant as a ‘secondary’ publisher of the material.

By publishing the initial post on Facebook, the Court found the Defendant has “participated” in the publication of the further comments, as he had generated an opportunity for such comments to be made. The Defendant had assumed responsibility to both monitor the content of the comments and to “remove those which were inappropriate or suffer the consequences irrespective of the inconvenience involved”.

In the age of social media, it is an increasingly common occurrence that defamation occurs without the publisher’s awareness, and this decision extends that danger. Consult a lawyer if any such issue occurs.