After posting on Instagram, it was not so ‘BeautyFULL’ for the Defendant as the Court awarded damages to the Plaintiffs for its former employee’s defamatory Instagram story.
In the decision of BeautyFULL CMC Pty Ltd and Ors v Hayes  QDC 111, Reid DCJ of the Brisbane District Court awarded damages to the Plaintiffs in the collective sum of $85,222.00 for the Defendant’s defamatory (Instagram story) publications.
Arguably, this is the first trial Judgment for defamation via an Instagram story that identifies the changing landscape of liability and dangers of social media by users. This Judgement reminds all users (of social media accounts) to be mindful of what they post and the potential legal ramifications that may apply.
Publication by Instagram Story
At the outset, BeautyFULL CMC Pty Ltd and its owners (together, the Plaintiffs) operated a cosmetic medical clinic and subsequently brought a claim against a former employee (Defendant) for publications made about the clinic on Instagram by way of a story.
Against that background, the dispute arose when the First Plaintiff posted a photograph on its Instragam account with the caption: “Dr Margaret serving during COVID-19”. To which, the Defendant re-shared the photograph on her Instagram story including the following comment:
“Before you watch my story I am not naming and shaming but when I see a company upload a FAKE photo that a medical practitioner is going to work on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis, it’s disgusting and disrespectful to the people who are actually putting their lives at risk to save others.”
As a matter of context, we must say, the Judgement revealed the Defendant had commenced a relationship with the Third Plaintiff’s former husband in 2018, which may have led to the personal animosity and unexplained anger between the parties.
Notwithstanding the apparent personal hostility between the parties, the Court outlined social media accounts generally are often “infected by personal grievances in an obnoxious manner and are often not a reliable source of information.
The truth defence was argued by the Defendant, however, no evidence was filed at trial and therefore the defence could not be accepted or explained. To that end, Reid DCJ found that the Defendant was motivated by “unexplained anger and resentment” to which the publications were intentionally false and without basis.
1. Always consider what your post (before posting) and know that legal consequences may follow;
2. This case serves as a reminder that defamatory material conveyed to third parties online through comments, posts or ‘stories’ on social media, give rise to the same causes of action as traditional modes of publication;
3. The concern that Instagram stories are only active for 24 hours means you may be left short in your ability to prove publication (screenshots are recommended to be taken immediately); and
4. Regardless of the number of followers/audience size, aggrieved parties are being defamed seeking damages.
The full decision of the Brisbane District Court is available here: BeautyFULL CMC Pty Ltd  QDC 111.
Should you have any questions or be the subject of a defamatory publication/s, we would welcome the ability to discuss and advise where necessary.
Salerno Law frequently provides advice to companies and individuals as to social media, defamation, copyright and intellectual property.
By Alex Philips
DISCLAIMER: This article is only meant to give you general information and should not be relied on as legal advice. Speak to one of our lawyers for more information.
Salerno Law is managed by Emma Salerno, Managing Partner and CEO, who has a wealth of experience from operating her own businesses across Australia as well as a range of in-house and commercial experience both in Australia and overseas.