Twitter sued by Australian man defamed in row over secret blog
Published 17/02/2012 | 11:12
AN Australian man is suing Twitter for defamation after a tweet wrongly accused him of authoring a hate blog directed at a television personality.
Marieke Hardy, a writer and television identity, used her Twitter account to accuse Joshua Meggitt as the person behind a long-running vitriolic hate blog – but the accusation was false and he is now suing Twitter both for her tweet and subsequent retweets by others.
His lawyers yesterday served a legal notice on the San Francisco-based social media company, as the publisher of Hardy's tweet. It is the first lawsuit against Twitter under Australian law.
On Twitter last November, Hardy said: "I name and shame my 'anonymous' internet bully. Liberating business! Join me".
The tweet then linked to her blog, which named Mr Meggitt as the author of "ranting, hateful" articles about her. But the claim was wrong.
Ms Hardy, who has more than 60,000 Twitter followers, has already settled a defamation claim with Mr Meggitt, reportedly for about $AUS15,000 (€12,200).
Mr Meggitt's lawyer, Stuart Gibson, said he would not be suing individuals who retweeted Ms Hardy's comment. He also said that his client had never signed on to Twitter and had not agreed to its terms and conditions, under which users agree to take responsibility for their comments.
"Twitter are a publisher, and at law anyone involved in the publication can be sued," Mr Gibson said. "We're suing for the retweets and the original tweet - and many of the retweets and comments are far worse."
An Australian internet law expert, Peter Black, said that sites such as Twitter and Facebook could be held responsible for posts by users in Australia. He said that while US laws provide immunity against liability for an "interactive computer service", Australian law provides no such protections.
"It is one of the first cases in which the platform – in this case Twitter – rather than the person that actually made the defamatory comment has been sued," he wrote on The Conversation website.
"Under Australian law, it is possible that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook could be held liable for posts made by their users. If that is indeed the result in this case, Australian defamation law will need urgent reform..
It is simply not practically possible for these platforms to filter all the content posted to these sites." Mr Black said Twitter-style disclaimers "will not provide absolute legal protection in all situations".
Mr Meggitt will rely on a landmark 2002 Australian High Court case in which a Melbourne mining magnate, Joseph Gutnick, won the right to sue US publisher Dow Jones under Australian law.