Has Australia Just Seen the Most Expensive Tweet Ever?

Australian man is ordered to pay $105,000.00 following the publication of online defamation on Twitter and Facebook.

In what is believed to be a ground breaking case concerning online defamation, a Judge in Australia has ordered former Orange High School student Andrew Farley to pay both compensatory and aggravated damages following false allegations, posted on Twitter and Facebook against music teacher Christine Mickle, an apparently unassuming individual.

Mr Farley appears to have borne a personal grudge against Ms Mickle, despite never having been taught by her. He illustrated his displeasure with Ms. Mickle by making a serious of comments online via Twitter and Facebook in November 2012, which the Court found amounted to online defamation.

Judge Elkaim, who made the determination, found that Mr Farley bore a personal grudge against Mr Mickle, that was founded on his belief that she had something to do with his father, the previous head of music at Orange High School. In finding for Ms. Mickle, the Judge found that the effects of the online defamation were devastating and caused Ms Mickle to take sick leave and detrimentally affected her ability to work on a full time basis. 

The Judge went on to make an absolute key point that shows why social media, a cornerstone of current communication technology can be so dangerous where cases of online defamation are concerned, namely that “When defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread. They are spread easily by the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers". Hence the danger of being found to have posted online defamation on social media - its repeated publication cannot be stopped. For want of a better cliché, ‘when that snowball starts down the hill it is simply not stopping’. On the basis of this analysis the Judge ordered Mr Farley to pay $85,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $20,000 in aggravated damages to Ms. Mickle, meaning that his tweets and Facebook updates cost him in excess of $105,000.00.

As this is a commonwealth case, it is feasible to assume that this case could be cited in UK Courts, where such an issue could likely rear its head, given the regularity with which cases of online defamation are coming before the Courts.

IF WE HAVE SAID IT ONCE WE HAVE SAID IT 1000 TIMES, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU TWEET! IT CAN GET YOU IN A LOT OF TROUBLE AND COST YOU SUBSTANTIAL SUMS OF MONEY, ESPECIALLY IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A GOOD LAWYER TO PROTECT YOU. 

John Spyrou 
Head of Internet and Media Law
@john_spyrou