If you have been following the news, the most recent landmark defamation case under Australia’s somewhat revised defamation laws, saw Adelaide Lawyer Gordon Cheng win $750 000 over a bad google review.

However, amidst the media circus following the case, it is relatively easy to forget that defamation isn’t a crime limited to celebrities, massive corporations or powerful individuals. In fact, the opposite is truer; according to a study conducted earlier in the year at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), an average Australian leader is more likely to both be accused of and sued over defamation. Furthermore, the study found that only 26% of defamatory cases involved media companies, while a slightly smaller 21% of defamatory cases involved a leader who could be considered a public figure.

Despite significantly more defamation cases effecting leaders, we only hear of the celebrity cases because typically, the lawsuits involve higher stakes and the parties involved are relatively well known among the general public.

The question remains:

“Why are so many Australian leaders getting caught up in Defamation lawsuits?”

Most corporate leaders probably aren’t aware of what classifies as defamation, and the small portion of those who are still might not realise what can be classified as a publication. 51% of the defamatory cases in the UTS study were digital cases. So, something relatively as simple as a post on social media can make a leader equally as liable to defamation, as a newspaper article or a gossip tv show can make journalist or presenter liable.

This concept is relatively easy to understand, as social media posts are typically known to be public and far-reaching. However, what may come as a surprise to some, is that some methods of communication that are considered relatively private can also be classified as a publication. More specifically, simple, one-on-one methods of communication between leaders and their employees, such as a text message, a direct message, an email or something completely devoid of the digital landscape like talking in person over coffee, are all classified as forms of publication under defamatory law. While the message may be intended to be private and only shared between two people; it still has the potential to spread via word of mouth and have negative repercussions on a leader.

As a leader in contemporary society, you have the potential to reach out and communicate to almost anyone else in the world and are able to do so conveniently with devices that fit into the palms of our hands. It is crucial you think about what you are writing on social media, in emails and on text messages; to ensure you do not get accused of defamation.

Anna Charlton