DANGER ZONE: Be careful what you say online.
DANGER ZONE: Be careful what you say online. Georja Ryan

How your social media comments could land you in court

WE'VE all seen comments on Facebook about someone else that make us cringe.

Sit up and take notice, because there is an interesting legal phenomenon that has developed with the haste of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter use.

That is the "grapevine" effect.

Meaning, that anything defamatory that is published on social media can continue to be published in a secondary way to a broader audience of people than the post or comment was originally intended for.

The grapevine is getting ordinary people into very big legal trouble.

Unfortunately the grapevine means that the speed and scope of distribution is not limited solely to the "Facebook friends" of the original poster but potentially to anyone who has access to the "feed" or "timeline" of any of the friends of the friends (or of their friends etc).

The wise and astute judges of our Queensland courts are finding that potential "lurking places" from which defamatory material can emerge into the future is multiplied when defamatory comments are published on social media.

The scope of publication is potentially only limited by access to the internet.

Recent cases have demonstrated that it seems practically impossible to completely delete a post or entry (or republication or comment about it) from the virtual world.

The scary issue for social media users who post defamatory comments (or share defamatory comments) is that they potentially bring themselves within an expensive area of law that used to only be the domain of newspapers, radio stations and other news outlets.

The best course of action?

Heed the age old adage, "if you cannot say anything nice - don't say anything at all" (and if you do - take down the post immediately, offer an apology and hope you will be forgiven and not end up in court).

Edwina Rowan is a Bundaberg lawyer and the chair of Edon Place.