$105K defamatory tweet - implications for schools

04 March 2014

A court case where former NSW high school student has been ordered to pay $105,000 in damages for defaming a teacher at school on social media, has significant implications not only for schools but also the wider community.

District Court judge Michael Elkaim ruled the former Orange High School student should pay compensatory and aggravated damages for making false allegations about a music teacher at the school on Twitter and Facebook, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

‘‘When defamatory publications are made on social media it is common knowledge that they spread,’’ Justice Elkaim said in his judgment.

‘‘They are spread easily by the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers. Their evil lies in the grapevine effect that stems from the use of this type of communication.’’

The former student made a series of defamatory comments about the teacher who replaced the former student’s father as a music teacher on an acting basis.

‘‘For some reason it seems that the defendant bears a grudge against the plaintiff, apparently based on a belief that she had something to do with his father leaving the school,’’ Justice Elkaim said.

This is the first twitter defamation case in Australia that has proceeded to full trial.

Notwithstanding the fact that in this case it was a teacher who was defamed by a student, this case (and others involving Facebook) make it abundantly clear that a school must have clear social media policies in place that deal, both with the personal use of social media by staff members, as well as the use of any social media accounts that a school has established in its own name.

As is always the case with enforcing governance initiatives, it is not enough just to publish a policy and hope for the best. Schools must also take steps to ensure that all of their staff get social media training and that records of that training are maintained.

On the other side of the fence, this case is one that schools may wish to build into their social media/ cyber bullying education programs for students as it provides a clear statement with respect to the need for students to get personal responsibility for their social media use.

For more information with respect to how best to manage social media risk refer to CompliSpace’s eBook An Employer’s Guide to Managing Social Media Risks.


CompliSpace Media

CompliSpace is an Australian company that helps over 600 non-government schools across Australia with their governance, risk, compliance and policy management. What makes us different is that we monitor over 200 sources of legal and regulatory change to ensure our clients have the updated policies and tools they need to meet new requirements. We share that knowledge with the broader Education community via School Governance.