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Defamation – A Growing Issue

Defamation - A Growing IssueNot that long ago, this was an issue normally reserved for newspapers and television stations and their lawyers. Insurance was available (and still is) at generally high premiums.

Today, the reality is that any person or small business with a blog or a Facebook page, really any on-line presence, can be unwittingly exposed to defamation liability. With the explosion of social media, the capability of people on social networks to share information on a mass scale makes it very easy for false information to be disseminated very quickly across an enormous network of people. This of course increases the “damage” that can be caused.

Legal firms including Slater and Gordon have seen a significant increase in defamation enquiries in the last financial year as a result of social media posts, with 43% of defamation enquiries relating to Facebook posts.

Last year a student was made to pay his former music teacher $105,000 after defaming her on Twitter and Facebook. In another instance, a couple paid over $15,000 in legal fees when facing a defamation claim following their comments on Facebook about a neighbour’s dog.

These cases may sound ridiculous, but today more than ever it is too easy to respond to a comment or event in the heat of the moment saying things without thinking of consequences. Posts and tweets in public forums can be shared at lightning speed, and once out, they are hard to shut down. Comments purely based on facts may keep you out of trouble, but why would you risk your business and your own reputation?

So what exactly is defamation? Defamation is defined as “any false information spread intentionally to damage the reputation of someone or something else “. It can be the reputation of a single person but it could also be a business, religion, country, or even a product.

Defamation is different from verbal and other kinds of abuse, it generally refers to “false statements made in a public manner to someone other than the person being defamed”. Defamation is a serious offense with often serious consequences.

In cases of unintentional defamation, often insurance policies such as your Professional Indemnity or Directors & Officers policy may help protect your reputation and allow you to financially weather a defamation case.

If you find yourself in the middle of a defamation allegation, there are a number of options available including exploring an amicable resolution, the use of mediators or seeking legal assistance for resolution. The path you choose will depend on the severity and validity of the claim. If you are unsure consult your legal adviser. If you have an insurance policy that covers defamation, contact your broker immediately – as soon as you are aware there could be an allegation made against you.

If you believe that this issue is relevant to your business, please feel free to contact Rebecca Fleming, Manager of our Travel Industry Division at Gow-Gates Insurance Brokers on (02) 8267 9919 or rfleming@gowates.com.au to discuss your circumstances or to obtain a quotation.

Gow-Gates Insurance Brokers advises that persons should not act on the material contained in this article as the items are of a general nature only and may be misinterpreted. We therefore recommend that advice be sought before acting in these areas.

Gow-Gates Property Report