Irish Times 18th June 2016
Facebook award is ‘a wake-up call for online users’
Rights groups react as court orders Irish man to pay €75,000 over defamatory post
Desmond Crofton, who won his civil action in relation to a Facebook comment.
An award of €75,000 in damages to a man following a defamatory Facebookposting has been described as a wake-up call for online users that they are not engaged in “pub talk”.
A Digital Rights Ireland spokesman said the award in Monaghan Circuit Court demonstrated the reality that the laws of defamation “definitely do apply to the internet”.
He was commenting following the case in which a Co Monaghan man was ordered to pay damages after he posted comments on Facebook about the national director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils.
Desmond Crofton (63), of Cedarwood House, Stonestown, Co Offaly took the civil action against John Gilsenan of Grigg, Doohamlet, Castleblayney, in relation to a Facebook comment posted on or about December 22nd, 2015.
Facebook case shows social media has same legal risks as print
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Mr Crofton gave an outline of how the Facebook comment resulted in questions being raised by members about the organisation’s finances and legal costs and had resulted in a confrontation that led to him being suspended on full pay.
Gilsenan failed to appear in court and counsel said that although he engaged in some early communication with the plaintiff, he had since “abandoned” the matter.
In awarding the maximum allowable damages, Judge John O’Hagan told Monaghan Circuit Court on Thursday that his order should “teach people posting messages on the social media site to be very careful”.
A spokesman for Digital Rights Ireland said it was a “big ruling to get in the Circuit Court” and described it as a “wake-up call for a lot of people”.
He said internet users often think they are talking in the pub and they might be giving out about someone.
“Often they are talking off the top of their heads and they don’t have any facts,” the spokesman said. “To them it’s like pub talk and it goes away at the end of the night.”
However, he said they had turned into publishers, subject to the same defamation laws as newspapers as they “committed something to writing” and they are speaking to a large audience of people, lots of whom they do not know.
“There’s a feeling that the old laws [offline] don’t apply online, but they do,” he said, adding that many people were not aware of the defamation laws.
“Irish defamation laws are pretty strict. There’s a very low bar for what defamation is in our system.”
He said the real world of defamation law applied to the virtual world as well.