Trends in digital defamation: defendants, plaintiffs, platforms

Journalism Social media Digital communications Defamation law Media regulation Australia

The Centre for Media Transition has reviewed plaintiffs, defendants and platforms in this new report on five years of defamation cases from 2013 to 2017.

Private individuals rather than public figures emerge as the primary source of defamation in the digital age. Just over one in five (21 per cent) of plaintiffs in defamation case judgments were public figures – and just over a quarter of defendants (26%) were media companies.

In addition to the five-year snapshot, the study also looked at 2007, as 'pre-social' comparison. The proportion of digital cases has increased substantially, from just over 17% in 2007 to over 53% in 2017.

The study shows the landscape for legal disputes around reputation is changing, as the question ‘who is a publisher’ continues to evolve. It highlights the growing influence of social platforms and websites not affiliated with media companies as the source of legal disputes. 

  • There were 16 cases involving Facebook posts, 20 involving emails, four involving tweets and two involving text messages.
  • There were 37 cases involving websites not affiliated with media organisations, Facebook or Twitter;
  • There were three cases (all relating to search results) in which Google was the defendant.

The research is part of the Centre for Media Transition's exploration of change, challenge and adaptation facing journalism. 

The independent study was in part funded by News Corporation.

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