The risky business of social media – 1st Speaker

Thoughts By 8 years ago


Renee Enborn (Barrister Douglas Menzies Chamber)

Renee opened the presentations with a focus on defamation law issues around social media and user generated content. As communications channels open, there is greater likelihood that users on social networks will ‘speak their mind’ withRenee Enborn - Barrister Douglas Menzies Chambersout being conscious of laws or rules they could be breaking. One example of this is defamation where Renee defined it as the negative feelings evoked towards an individual as a result of reading an article, also determined by whether the information is true or false. Essentially, not identifying the individual by name, but providing enough details to them is defamatory such as Renee’s example “She is a barrister, level 9 at Douglas Menzies Chambers, that identifies me”.

Often, even if the intention of the comment was a joke, but the ordinary reader thinks less of the person mentioned in the joke and the facts are untrue, that is defamation. Renee presented several defenses to a defamation law suite including;

  • Truth
  • Qualified privilege
  • Duty of care to the public
  • Defamation toward a politician or prime minister

The presentation moved on to user generated content and how there have been very few defamation actions, as the area is not legalled. The most likely forums for defamation are online editorials where comments can be posted. Renee gave an example of an online paper that invited readers to comment on a murder trial. The comments posted were emotional, threatening and aggressive and the publisher allowed comments to be posted. As a result the publisher could be sued as with the author of the comments.

The only real action taken so far on defamatory grounds was in Los Angeles, March 2009. Dawn Simorangkir of Boudoir Queen clothing is suing Courtney Love for defamatory comments made online when Love refused to pay an outstanding debt and Dawn refused to continue producing garments. Love made public comments on market place forums such as calling Simorangkir a “vile horrible lying bitch” and a “homophobe drug dealer”. The case is in progress.

In closing, Renee gave advice to be careful on what has previously been published, as the republisher can also be liable. Finally tools such as twitter, facebook and blogs do not face the same rigorous editorial checks to that of a large publisher or media organisation, so extra care should be taken when making or reviewing posts.


A 2 hour seminar focussing on the marketing, legal and social implications of new media and user generated content as both an internal organisaitonal concern and at the public relations level.

27 May 2009, Sensis Theatre