Aussie Teacher Wins Defamation Suit Against Former Student for “Ugly” Posts

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litigation500By IT-Lex Intern Amber Williams (LinkedIn)

Not long ago, we wrote about the Florida high schooler whose Facebook update cost her family an $80,000 legal settlement. In that same vein, here’s an equally unbelievable story from Australia about another teenager whose social media usage ended up coming with a severe price tag. The defendant in this case is former Orange High School student Andrew Farley, also the son of the former head teacher of the school’s music and arts department.  The plaintiff, Christine Mickle, took over the position of head teacher of the department after Farley Sr. had suffered from some poor health.

The plaintiff had never taught the defendant in class, but had an excellent reputation as a music teacher.  The younger Farley was no longer a student at the school when the plaintiff received her promotion, but as soon as he found out, he posted some nasty comments about her on Facebook and Twitter that were so “ugly” the judge did not repeat them in his judgment. (They’re also so ugly that we can’t find them online – use your imagination).

The Facebook comments and tweets were apparently supposed to be between Farley and a few of his friends, but IT-Lex readers should know what that means.  A friend who read Farley’s posts warned that:

“You’re all entitled to your opinions.  I in no way am arguing with that.  But be very very VERY careful what you post on public media.”

The defendant responded:

“Like I said I can post whatever the f**k I like and if you don’t like it block me so you don’t have to read it.  I don’t give a sh*t…if any one gets hurt over what I have to say about her.”

Someone DID get hurt from these false comments.

Judge Elkaim said the comments had had a “devastating effect” on the popular teacher, who immediately took sick leave and only returned to work on a limited basis late last year.

The judge ruled that Farley pay the teacher $85,000 in compensatory damages, and on top of that, another $20,000 in aggravated damages (totaling around $95,000 in US dollars) for the severity of the comments.  Farley did not know of this ruling immediately as he did not even appear at the trial, leaving the judge to believe that defendant had “abandoned his interest in the proceedings.”

As to defamatory comments, the judge reinforced for everyone why they are so terrible:

“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.”

Farley spoke to an Australian news outlet with his thoughts following this judgment:

He said he “never meant to defame her – it was a discussion between four of my friends and it was never meant for a public broadcast … I’m sorry it did go to the extent that it did. I never meant for that.”

Mr Farley, who was 20 at the time of the judgment, warned other social media users to be “really careful”.

“Just because you think you’re talking to your friends doesn’t mean you’re safe.

“This has really shaken me. I have been depressed. I have been seeking help for my mental state, like I haven’t been well at all, and it’s all because of one comment on Facebook.”

The lesson to be learned here is to monitor what is said on social media, as that platform is now being litigated in the courts.

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