TWO local businesspeople say they have been defamed on Facebook site, Sth Gippsland Praise and Shame.
And while a disclaimer on the site says “business may join and have a right of reply” to negative comments, neither of the businesspeople who spoke to The Star had any idea they had been criticised until told by friends.
The site is for “members only”.
Two Star journalists were members of the site until one was blocked and the other was removed as a member. The first voiced concerns on the site that a business was being unfairly slandered. The other posted questions to administrator Ian Gardener asking about the potential legal pitfalls of administering the site.
A later call to Mr Gardener asking for comment elicited a terse response: “I’m not interested.”
“The only reason I found out about the criticism was because a friend of mine did a Google search on our business,” one business owner said.
“All this criticism of my business came up. I’ve been here six years and my customers mean a lot to me and this business means a lot to me. So to see that was very disappointing.”
While other posts have been taken down – including an expletive-laden stoush between a member who disparaged a local business, and a defender of the business, who called the complainant a trouble maker – the one that makes disparaging comments about her business remains.
Another businessperson who believes he was slandered on the site, posted his own Facebook message to friends complaining that Mr Gardener “allows people within his group to bad mouth local businesses, governments and even individual people and does not inform the targets of the postings or invite a response by them”.
“Users can join the group but if he doesn’t like a response/retort he deletes and blocks that person,” the businessperson stated.
Tim Finney, a Slater and Gordon lawyer who specialises in legal matters around social media, said websites like Sth Gippsland Praise and Shame could be at risk of litigation.
“Being a closed, members only site may limit the potential damage in an instance of defamation, but allowing a right of reply is irrelevant. What you say in the first instance is what matters,” he said.
“With something like Facebook it will come down to what extent the administrators have oversight of the material that has appeared on the site at the time and before it goes up – and, if they do receive a complaint, how quickly they respond.”
Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=6638