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Social Media defamation in Papua New Guinea

Over the past few weeks, there have been key issues raised and with pending court cases to occur over defamation in the online space, namely the “Social Media Space”.

There are lots of interesting comments currently, around how to avoid being caught for defamation, what not to say to be accused of defamation and most importantly “what is defamation??”.

Defamation is a very serious offence and can carry a range of legal implications if you are found guilty and charged with this offence.

So, when will something be ‘defamatory’?

First, at least one person (other than the person who is being defamed) has to see or hear the false information.

Second, the material must be such that if an average person saw or heard, it, that person would think less of you. For example, it can be defamatory for someone to:
- say you are dishonest or disloyal,
- ridicule you,
- accuse you of committing a crime, or
- say you have a disease.
It may also be defamatory for someone to imply something negative about you.

The Opposition Leader and other people within PNG have tried to associate the pending legal case that the Prime Minister has instigated over him personally being defamed. To the Prime Minister trying to control the media.

We asked the Prime Minister about this allegation and this was his response, “There is no control over the media by the PNG Government. The Opposition once again is talking lies and is just upset that the media will not publish his nonsense without facts. I welcome the media to publish anything from the Opposition. It will only help the Government and myself achieve our positive goals for the country and allow the people to really see that the Opposition has nothing to of value to add to PNG. Over the past 12 months, what has he done for the country?? What has he bought to the table as new initiatives for PNG?? NOTHING!!...This is why the other Government MP’s are not joining him…he has no policies, he has no way of leading our country and achieving the results that we are currently achieving. My only request of the Opposition, is to stop wasting the courts time, the tax payers money with nonsense court cases and start bringing real thinking and agendas to our parliament sittings. So to be clear, there is no censorship of the media and the media is free to publish the facts through any media channel in PNG.”

The thing you need to remember when you are posting anything online, is that the same legal laws apply to you as they do for the mainstream media. Even if you are just re-posting an article, you are also liable is this article or story is lies and not factual. Here are the real things you need to remember when posting anything online:

Here are 4 things you should know about social media defamation:

- In general terms, defamation occurs when a person intentionally spreads information about another person, group of people, or company that damages their reputation, or can make others think less of them.
- Defamation is actionable regardless of the medium. A person can be defamed, for example, in print, through photos and on the internet.
- Defamation cases involving the internet and social media are relatively new, but the same principles apply.
- A person who did not create the defamatory material, but only shares it (for instance, by “retweeting” a tweet, or posting of Facebook), can also be held, found liable or guilty of defamation. 

Here is an example of a defamation case, to assist your understanding. These cases are now occurring all over the world, especially in the USA and Australia. 

Most recently in Australia, NSW District Court awarded a teacher $105,000 in damages in Australia's first Twitter defamation battle to proceed to a full trial. The court held that a former student had defamed music teacher Christine Mickle, making false allegations about her on Twitter and Facebook. Lawyer Stuart Gibson said that the case would clarify this area of law. "The same principles [of defamation law] apply [to social media] except that you're likely to be easier to prove the grapevine effect by social media through discovery and hence amend your claim and possibly seek the cap on damages which is $355,500 (in Australia) at the moment... across the country."

So be mindful of what you post, be mindful that you are posting facts…and as the Prime Minister would say, “We can all have effective discussions and outcomes if we are talking facts and truths”

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