VIC We are admins of a community Facebook group - where is our line?

Discussion in 'Defamation Law Forum' started by SarahHVic, 12 November 2018.

  1. SarahHVic

    SarahHVic Member

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    Hi everyone,

    I am one of three admins of a Facebook Community Noticeboard page for a very small town. We have a list of rules which include no name calling/threats. Many divisive topics are discussed, particularly about the local council, Parks Victoria and other government bodies. Usual moaning about being useless, not making right decisions etc.

    Recently the board of a private community service has imploded with allegations of money wasting within the organisation. I don't know the details too well. The local newspaper has covered some of it but on the noticeboard it hadn't been discussed. It's a very localised issue involving a small section of our small community.

    Anyway, someone posted up a sign that was stuck to the gate of the service involved on our noticeboard. The sign says "(Board involved) is wasting your fees to fight for their positions on the board, why won't they call a special meeting?"
    There were a few responses, mainly people saying "What is going on?". A few comments said they supported the staff of the service. One comment said 'This is what happens when the wrong people are in power'.

    The board name was mentioned, but no board members were singled out. Nothing that broke our rules. The post has been quickly buried and you currently need to scroll down a fair way to find it.

    Long story short since that post we (the admin of the group) have received a number of messages from board members. They started off saying they would like the post taken down. We replied that at the moment this post didn't break any of our 'play nice' rules and it was a discussion about a community issue, just like other 'controversial' topics that are discussed and that the board is more than welcome to post up their point of view.

    Now these messages from the board is becoming more threatening, saying that we are leaving ourselves open to defamation. This is really upsetting to us and we are confused about the whole thing. Legally, what are our rights here? Should we be removing every post that complained about the council, Parks Vic, and other organisations that member disagree with decisions made? We are really reluctant to remove the post in question as we feel like these board members are quite frankly bullying and trying to shut down discussion. I've read the post again and it doesn't mention names, it is a short discussion with people saying they disagree with how things are being handled.

    Any advice would be appreciated. We don't like that we are forced in this position and that these board members may use this opportunity to shut down any public discussions of the matter.
     
  2. Rod

    Rod Well-Known Member
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    I can't see anything defamatory in what you posted.

    Seems like reasonably criticism, hopefully based on facts, not rumour.
     
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  3. Scruff

    Scruff Well-Known Member

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    Firstly, defamation only occurs if a person knows or is otherwise reckless to the fact that their statements are false. It's also worth noting that there is a big difference between civil defamation and criminal defamation. Like any civil matter, a civil defamation case would be decided on the balance of probabilities. For criminal defamation however, it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused knew that their statement or publication was false at the time it was made or was reckless to that fact.

    Whether or not a post on the internet is defamatory therefore really depends on what comments are associated with the picture when it's posted, because that puts the publication into a certain context.

    If the picture was posted with a comment along the lines of "blah blah is wasting your money", then that could be defamation because you are speculating and the comment is not "known" to be based on fact.

    If on the other hand, it was posted with a comment along the lines of "this sign was spotted on blah blah's fence on Tuesday", then that is not defamation, because you are reporting a fact - which is the existence of the sign. The content of the sign is therefore irrelevant.

    A discussion board of this type is created for the purpose of encouraging public discussion relating to local issues. It is therefore essentially a news service, and it therefore has certain responsibilities. As long as you stick to facts and don't make unfounded claims against any individual or entity, you should be fine.

    When it comes to posting images on a site of this type, you just need to make sure that any associated comment relates to "what is depicted in the image" and not "what something depicted in the image may or may not imply". The former is fact (the existence of the sign), whilst the latter is speculation (what the sign says). Any comments that follow are public opinion and it would be very rare for those to be found to be defamatory unless they were induced by speculation in the first place.

    If there is any defamation case here, then it would be against the person or persons who put up the sign, not anyone who publishes a picture of it, especially with the sign being on public display.

    To sum it all up, it's all about "presentation" - in what context has the picture been published? Are you "reporting" the existence of the sign? Or are you "endorsing" what the sign says? You can do the first - but can't do the second unless you have done the research and can backup your statements with facts.
     
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    #3 Scruff, 15 November 2018
    Last edited: 15 November 2018
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