A 74-year-old Australian man was awarded $115,000 in damages caused by a libelous Facebook post about his business, and it’s a good reminder that you can’t just say anything on social media.
Here’s what happened.
Kenneth Rothe, the man awarded the damages, owned two hotels, the Nirvana Village and Blue Dolphin Motels, located in the Australian coastal town of Nambucca where he lived with his family.
One day, out of the blue, his hotels were accused of being a haven to pedophiles, a claim that the judge would later determine was baseless.
In March 2014, electrician David Scott posted, “Pedophile [sic] warning:- Nambucca has been used as a relocation for these monsters — blue dolphin — nirvana hotel and above the Indian restaurant! …Bus stops are right out front of theses hotels for our children?”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Rothe often offered accommodations to people dealing with family disputes, but never to pedophiles.
In the wake of the Facebook post, Rothe started receiving numerous anonymous phone calls, and he says his life was threatened on two different occasions. One assault left him hospitalized for six months. Eventually, his family moved out of the coastal village.
Judge Judith Gibson, who presided over the case, said the post was written out of the blue, had no factual basis, and severely affected Rothe’s life. Scott was ordered to pay Rothe.
“The anonymity, instaneousness and wide ranging reach of the internet and social media make it a dangerous tool in the hands of persons who see themselves as caped crusaders or whistleblowers,” Judge Gibson said.