defamationCan you write whatever you like about other people on Facebook?

Robyn Greeuw, posted to her Facebook timeline in December 2012 that she had: “separated from Miro Dabrowski [her estranged husband] after 18 years of suffering domestic violence and abuse”.

Miro Dabrowski, a teacher, sued his ex-wife for defamation, won the case and $12,500 in damages. The post remained on her Facebook page for about six weeks and was initially brought to Mr Dabrowski’s attention by a fellow teacher he’d recently begun dating.

The post caused the relationship to break down, the woman saying that post made her feel “shocked, confused, horrified and upset.” Mr Dabrowski argued that because he was a teacher, the post had caused him personal humiliation, distress and caused harm to his reputation.

Ms Greeuw represented herself in court, basing  her defense on the premise that the domestic violence allegations were true. The judge found that her evidence wasn’t credible and that she “was prepared to say or write whatever she thinks will suit her case.”

Whether the domestic violence allegations were true or not couldn’t be proven. Western Australian District Court Judge Bowden conceded that: “domestic violence and abuse by its very nature usually [occurs] in the matrimonial home and in the absence of independent witnesses”.  At best, Ms Greeuw had established there was an incident during a holiday in 2010 which led Mr Dabrowski to apologise.

Taking into account the fact that the comments were read by a limited audience and the post was deleted after about six weeks, he ordered Ms Greeuw to pay Mr Dabrowski $12,500 plus interest and costs.

There is a growing list of defamation cases linked to social media. In 2014, a former student was ordered to pay a teacher $105,000 in damages after posting defamatory comments on Facebook and Twitter about her.

It’s clear that in Australia, with no enshrined free speech laws, you can’t say whatever you like about someone else on social media.

In the family law example, here are some basic ways you can avoid Ms Greeuw’s situation.

  • Don’t post anything about your ex-partner on social media.
  • If you have experienced domestic violence, seek the assistance of an experienced family lawyer
  • Family law can be complex, so ensure that you seek legal advice when separating

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