How your social media account could get you sued

There’s no escaping the fact that social media has taken over the world.

So much so, that it’s now considered a standard, even essential, component of the marketing strategy for any business, regardless of size.

But a recent High Court ruling means social media users can now be sued if someone else makes a defamatory comment on their profile or page.

According to O*NO Legal founder and legal strategist Kristen Porter, the landmark case ruled that the owners of the account – in this case three media organisations – were the “publishers” of comments made by third party users.

“The High Court decision means it’s up to you to ensure that all comments and material on your social media accounts are not defamatory,” Ms Porter said.

“You are ultimately liable and responsible for the comments you allow your audience to publish.”

While the High Court case dealt with Facebook as the social media platform in question, the implications of the ruling extend to all social media platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as websites that allow commentary.

“Not only can you be sued for publishing content on your social media profiles, groups and web pages, but you are also liable for any comments you allow to be published on such platforms,” Ms Porter said.

Social media in the real estate industry

Like a lot of businesses in Australia, real estate agencies actively use social media platforms to promote and advertise listings, widen audiences and create brand awareness.

“If you’re like most businesses you are utilising all web platforms to not only promote your business and services but create engagement and build a relationship with your followers, clients and community,” Ms Porter said.

“This case has shown that while engaging with your audience on social and web platforms can be beneficial to your business, it is necessary to be more vigilant and smarter about how you do it.”

Protecting yourself from litigation

Ms Porter said the easiest way to eliminate the risk of being sued for defamation is to remove the ability for third party users to comment on your platform.

“If this seems drastic or would be detrimental to your business development, you may need to dedicate resources to ensure the proper management of the platforms so that all first-hand content published is appropriate and any comments posted are reviewed and suitably actioned in a timely manner,” she said.

“If you are uncomfortable with a comment or are concerned it may lead to contentious online discussions, then best practice may be to delete the comments and consider blocking the users from your platform.”

Ms Porter said proper management meant training staff to understand what content was acceptable and unacceptable, what conduct necessitated blocking the user, and how often reviews should be conducted.

“Ensuring there is backup personnel trained to conduct these reviews and manage your online profiles is also best practice to ensure you don’t have any black holes of content getting through when your staff inevitably go on leave,” Ms Porter said.

“Needless to say, if you cannot moderate third party content on your platform, you may wish to avoid it.

“This goes for your existing profiles – check them out and if you can’t moderate it, consider removing your profile from the platform.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a freelance journalist for Elite Agent.

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