Yes. As long as what you are communicating lowers the reputation of the person you are writing about and the email is sent to somebody else other than the person who you are writing about.

So just to clarify, it’s not defamatory to send an email to someone calling them names and alleging they are of bad character.  However, if you cc’d the email to somebody else then you have sent it to a third party and may be at risk of having defamed the person you are writing about.

For something to be defamatory it needs to have an audience – so even if you send an email to a friend saying nasty things about someone then this is potentially defamatory.

What’s more – sending potentially defamatory statements by email leaves evidence of not only what was written, but who sent it.  Almost all emails can now be recovered, even if they are deleted.

Even if you forward an email it can be defamatory.

So for goodness sake – be careful what you write!

Can you defame someone via Facebook, Twitter or Youtube?

Yes, you certainly can.  If the material is defamatory, it doesn’t matter if it is only being viewed by a small number of people – you still might have to pay damages.

Where is it being published?

The problem with social media defamation is the question of where it is being published – so if someone is defaming you from the United States which country, state or jurisdiction do you sue in?

The law will generally hold the defamation to be measured in the state where your reputation exists.  So even if the person defaming you is based in California, if you live and do business in Queensland – any defamation case will probably be commenced in Queensland and the damage will be measured on how it impacts you locally.

What sorts of things can be defamatory?

There is a wide range of comments which can be taken to be defamatory, including:

  • Saying someone is a liar, corrupt or not loyal;
  • Saying someone is a thief;
  • Making fun of somebody’s beliefs or ideas;
  • Implying somebody has engaged in immoral or unsavoury sexual conduct;
  • Saying someone is a drug taker;
  • Saying someone is a tyrant or a bully;
  • Saying someone is mentally unstable;
  • Anything which suggests the person is of bad character;
  • Anything which suggests the person should be shunned or generally excluded from social groups.

What do I do if have defamed someone online?

Delete it immediately and hope a complaint/legal action doesn’t follow.

If somebody does make a complaint, offer to make amends by:

  • Apologising;
  • Publishing a reasonable correction;
  • Offering to pay any direct expenses they have incurred as a result.

Though obviously the best thing to do is think before you write anything about anyone online – don’t be impulsive and make sure you can substantiate anything published online.

Can I sue someone for publishing something about me on Facebook, Twitter or via email?

Yes.  You should consider speaking to a defamation specialist. LegalVision can of course assist.

Conclusion

For clarification on the legality of defamation law, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755 and speak with one of our experienced lawyers for expert legal advice.

Lachlan McKnight

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