The internet has provided people with ample opportunity to offend each other. Sometimes the offending conduct affects a person’s reputation and they might try and correct this by bringing a claim in defamation. If you are someone who engages in online commentary, you should be aware of what is considered defamatory. This article sets out what defamation is and what you should if you defame someone.

What is Defamation?

Defamation occurs when you say or write something about someone that has a false meaning that affects the reputation of that person negatively.

For a defamation claim to be established the complaining party must prove that:

  1. you published the defamatory matter, meaning you made it available to another person;
  2. the defamatory matter identifies or is about the person complaining; and
  3. the defamatory material is in fact defamatory, meaning that it hurt their reputation.

‘Defamatory matter’ may take the form of spoken or written words, pictures, gestures, signs and other visible representations.

To be defamatory, the matter must disparage a person’s reputation, meaning it lays a person open to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or lowers the person’s esteem in the eyes of right-thinking members of society. It does not include matter that simply hurts someone’s feelings. Additionally, matter will not be defamatory if it concerns aspects a person cannot control, such as their physical appearance.

For example, if you were to make a comment on a Facebook fan page, or in the comment section of a news article, stating that a famous sportsman was obese, and slow, that could be defamatory as it may well affect their reputation as a professional.

Who Can Bring a Claim of Defamation?

If you defame an individual it is likely they can bring a claim against you. However, if you defame a business or corporate entity, that business can only bring a claim against you if they have fewer than 10 employees.

If you can prove that your comment is substantially true, you might have a defence to defamation. Courts may consider defamatory material to be true if you prove that the gist of the offensive meaning of your comment is true.

Is Your Comment Your Honest Opinion?

If you were merely expressing your opinion, you may well have a defence to a claim of defamation. To rely on the defence of honest opinion you will have to show:

  1. it was obvious to the third party or audience that you were merely expressing your opinion. For example, you thought the food at the restaurant down the street was overpriced and your steak was overcooked;
  2. it was a matter which is in the public’s interest. For example, you were commenting on a public figure like a politician; and
  3. it was based on ‘proper material’, meaning your opinion was based on material that is substantially true. For example, you actually watched a movie and you are making a comment about your thoughts on the film.

However, the defamed person can challenge your defence by proving your dishonesty and that you did not honestly hold that opinion at the time you published your comment.

Was it Trivial?

You can defend publishing defamatory material if you can prove that it was unlikely to cause any real harm. For example, if a derogatory comment is made about you to your relative, and that relative is unlikely to think any less, whoever made the comment may rely on the defence of triviality. However, this defence is unlikely to apply to comments made online because a large number of people can read those posts.

Key Takeaways

Your online posts might affect someone’s reputation and make others think less of them. In such circumstances, it is likely you are defaming them. However, comments will not be defamatory if they are your actual opinion and they are either true or well informed. What you post online has the potential to be read and accessed by a large amount of people. The more people that see your comment, the more likely it is to be damaging and therefore defamatory.

For these reasons, it is crucial you do not take part in trolling or making malicious comments for ulterior motives, especially if you know they are untrue. You can cause someone’s business or personal reputation a lot of damage and you may be held accountable for that, so think before you click ‘post’. If you are concerned that you have defamed someone or have any questions, get in touch with LegalVision’s dispute resolution lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

COVID-19 Business Survey
LegalVision is conducting a survey on the impact of COVID-19 for businesses across Australia. The survey takes 2 minutes to complete and all responses are anonymous. We would appreciate your input. Take the survey now.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

The majority of our clients are LVConnect members. By becoming a member, you can stay ahead of legal issues while staying on top of costs. For just $199 per month, membership unlocks unlimited lawyer consultations, faster turnaround times, free legal templates and members-only discounts.

Learn more about LVConnect

Charlotte Hale
Need Legal Help? Get a Free Fixed-Fee Quote

If you would like to receive a free fixed-fee quote or get in touch with our team, fill out the form below.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive emails from LegalVision and can unsubscribe at any time. See our full Privacy Policy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Our Awards
  • 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn
  • 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards
  • 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards
  • Most Innovative Law Firm - 2019 Australasian Lawyer 2019 Most Innovative Firm - Australasian Lawyer
Privacy Policy Snapshot

We collect and store information about you. Let us explain why we do this.

What information do you collect?

We collect a range of data about you, including your contact details, legal issues and data on how you use our website.

How do you collect information?

We collect information over the phone, by email and through our website.

What do you do with this information?

We store and use your information to deliver you better legal services. This mostly involves communicating with you, marketing to you and occasionally sharing your information with our partners.

How do I contact you?

You can always see what data you’ve stored with us.

Questions, comments or complaints? Reach out on 1300 544 755 or email us at

View Privacy Policy