An Australian judge may make an example of sloppy punctuation, to the tune of over $117,000 USD in legal fees. Australia: the stone-cold schoolmarm of nations, once dubbed by a reporter the “defamation capital of the world.”
Several outlets have reported that real estate agent Anthony Zadravic is now being sued for defamation for typing “employees” rather than “employee’s” in a Facebook post last year. In the reported 12 hours before Zadravic deleted it, the post read:
“Oh Stuart Gan!! Selling multi million $ homes in Pearl Beach but can’t pay his employees superannuation,” meaning an employer-subsidized pension fund. “Shame on you Stuart!!! 2 yrs and still waiting!!!”
Last week, Judge Judith Gibson reportedly ruled that Zadravic’s employer Stuart Gan would be allowed to proceed with the suit because “employees” could suggest a “systematic pattern of conduct” of shortchanging staff, whereas Zadravic claimed he was only speaking for himself. Gibson also reportedly said that the suit might cost Zadravic up to $250,000 AUD, or roughly $180,000.
Another Australian court has lately gone off the rails with social media defamation policy. Last month, the High Court of Australia upheld a ruling in favor of a former teen detainee who sued media companies over commenters’ ridicule under news posts showing him hooded and strapped to a chair in a detention center. The court found that media companies (or anyone who so much as runs a Facebook page) for commenters’ speech; as a result, some outlets and the Tasmanian premier have restricted comments, and CNN has blocked Australian readers from its Facebook page. Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that even platforms like Facebook should be held liable as publishers, calling social media “a coward’s palace.”
Defamation attorneys have warned that precedent implies that so much as sharing a post, without adding commentary, can constitute defamation. In 2018, a former New South Wales mayor—a public figure, who’d have a much harder time winning a defamation case in the US—was awarded $120,000 (AUD) in damages (today, roughly $88,000 USD) from a Facebook commenter. And now, maybe some unfortunate soul goes to apostrophe jail.