In Facebook posts, they falsely accused their former friend and poker player Nicholas Polias of being a thief.
Now the four friends have to pay out $340,000 in damages between them.
The NSW Supreme Court has decided that posting to Facebook is publishing and that what was published was defamatory.
The case is a further lesson in the dangers of free flowing commentary on social media sites. And the fact that hurtful comments can be defamatory no matter where they are said or posted.
Posting or tweeting are the same as if the comments were broadcast on radio or television or printed in a newspaper. There’s nothing private about such conversations. Everyone can see them.
Earlier this year, NSW music teacher Christine Mickle was awarded $105,000 after a district court judge found false allegations had been made about her by a student via Twitter and Facebook.
In this new case, the four accused could have defended the defamation action if they could prove the allegation. However, the court found the allegation just wasn’t true.
The case revolves around a trip to Las Vegas in mid 2012 to play at a poker tournament and a dispute around $2,000 Nicholas Polias lent to another player who was short of cash.
The four made comments, both written and verbally, when Nicholas Polias wrote a note on Facebook answering rumours about what happened to the money.
Justice Stephen Rothman said Polias suffered significant damage to his reputation and felt significantly distressed.
“The money was never stolen, because it was never intended that the rightful owner be deprived of the money,” Justice Rothman said. “The money was never missing.”
The damages which must be paid:
- Tobin Ryall $125,000
- Andy Hun Wei Lee $130,000
- Sandy Jan $50,000
- Rhys Gould $35,000
The judge also ordered an injunction preventing the four from continuing to publish the defamatory comments.
He noted the defendants had refused to remove the publications or stop repeating the allegations.
The four will also have to pay legal costs, to be decided at a later date
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