A further example of the dramatic increase in the number of defamation disputes arising out of Facebook posts and comments is the case of Rothe v Scott.¹
Mr Rothe issued proceedings against Mr Scott for a post on his personal Facebook page. Mr Scott’s post was severely offensive and insinuated that Mr Rothe was a reprehensible criminal and conducted his businesses in a manner dangerous to the community through accommodating those involved in similar criminality.² The post did not specifically name Mr Rothe, but referred to his motels. Mr Rothe was identifiable as the proprietor of the motels in question as he resided at one of them, included his name in the letterhead used by his motel businesses, and personally handled all bookings.
The publication had an extremely detrimental effect on Mr Rothe, who the Court found was an impressive witness and upright member of the community. Mr Scott was found to have no defence and became liable to pay substantial damages, discounted in light of the limited extent of the publication and the limited time it remained on Facebook, of $150,000.
Identification of an individual is an essential element in a defamation claim. This case demonstrates that a publication can be defamatory, and may identify a Plaintiff, even if it does not refer to that person by name, but includes sufficient facts or a description which would enable an ordinary reasonable person to identify them.
Online defamation can be distressing, and an illustration of the devastating harm caused by mischievous use of the internet.³