Blogs encourage and facilitate millions of people to publish their views on any topic they choose to readers around the world. However, many bloggers (and people who post comments on blogs) do not realise that they are subject to the same laws as mainstream media organisations are regarding the publication of false and damaging information, and that their liability can arise anywhere that their blog is viewed, including in other countries.
A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria has highlighted the risks. Mr Gluyas, the plaintiff, lives in Victoria. He suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and for many years has received a disability support pension due to his inability to work. He has also become an advocate the rights of persons who are on the autism spectrum, including by creating a website on which he publishes his views.
Mr Canby, the defendant, lives in California and maintains a website called ‘autismisbad.blogspot.au’. Mr Gluyas would from time to time post comments on Mr Canby’s blog. In response to some of those comments, Mr Canby posted highly insulting comments about Mr Gluyas, for example claiming he is a paedophile who “stalks young boys” and that he is a fraud.
The court found that Mr Canby’s posts were defamatory in that they would or would be likely to damage the reputation of or bring disrepute to Mr Gluyas. The court awarded damages of $50,000 plus interest. Whether Mr Gluyas is able to enforce this award of damages in California remains unclear.
Nevertheless the decision sends a stark warning to bloggers and those who participate in online discussions (including on social media such as Twitter and Facebook) to avoid posting any information that they know or suspect is false and that may damage some other person’s reputation or standing.
There are likely to be more such cases in coming years until there is widespread recognition of the laws that apply.