Here is a reminder for everyone who thinks they can write whatever they feel like on social media. A Victorian court has ordered an aspiring councillor of Hume City Council Ravi Ragupathy to pay $200,000 in damages for his Facebook rant.
A few months back when Melbourne based Indian origin brothers, Aloke Kumar and Akash Kumar started receiving “false and defamatory” comments on Facebook they didn’t know what to do.
“We were shocked to see that someone is trying to destroy our reputation which we have build in the last so many years after migrating from India,” said Aloke Kumar.
According to the documents submitted in the court as a statement of claim, Mr Ravi Ragupathy wrote on a Facebook post: “The Age tried to contact both brothers and made several attempts. Why are you both absconding? What are you hiding?”
The court document further states that, Mr Ragupathy’s post said: “How many fake members fees & fundraising monies were diverted to this membership drive and for your own benefits?“ (It was about Labor Party membership fees and fundraising activities)
It was alleged that Mr Ragupathy’s post was referring to a political scandal in news at that point in time within the Victorian Labor Party.
Kumar brothers (Aloke and Akash) are successful businessmen and own the Thornbury Theatre in Melbourn’s north.
Aloke Kumar told The Australia Today, “It is very unfortunate that some people use social media for wrongdoings. It is growing in our community very fast. You would see people use these social media platform to threaten, abuse, bully, intimidate, harass and whatnot.”
“Some people also use social media to create religious disharmony in our community. This needs to stop because it takes years to build your reputation in society but someone can destroy it just by a click of a button,” said Mr Kumar.
After losing the court case, Mr Ravi Raghupathy told The Australia Today over the phone, “It is not fair, there is no defamation, he is doing great business.”
Talking to The Age Mr Ragupathy said, “he could not afford the pay-out and he was not aware before he made his social media comments that they could attract a defamation lawsuit in Australia, a country he migrated to from India in the 1990s and one he regarded as free.”
Mr Ragupathy did not file his defence and was not formally represented by a lawyer.
Mark Stranarevic from Matrix Legal represented the Kumar brothers in the court.
He told The Australia Today, “My clients are happy with the judgement by the Court and feel they have been vindicated. Social media defamation is very common these days and everyone has a legal right to protect their reputation online in Australia.”
“If the defendant wishes to appeal that is his legal right,” said Mr Stranarevic.
Aloke Kumar said, “Such defamation can sometimes destroy lives, business, families, mental health etc. I would also appeal to the community to stop spreading hate on social media. Stop bullying people and also stop crying a victim. Stand up for yourself, your family and your dear ones.”
Molina Swaroop Asthana is Vice President of the Law Institute of Victoria.
She told The Australia Today, “The ruling of the County Court in this matter has proven that there can be serious repercussions for people making accusations against other people on social media without verifying or authenticating the facts. This will set the precedent for further similar judgments to be made when comments made by one person have a ‘significant grapevine effect’.”
“The best policy I tell my client’s about the use of social media is to imagine what you say could be admitted as evidence in a Court of law. Australia has very strict laws pertaining to defamation and the problem with social media is that comments can spread like tentacles and damage people’s reputation very easily. That is why the Court’s take a tough stance on it based on recent and historical judgements,” said Mr Stranarevic.
Also, try and treat people as you want to be treated online. The internet is a cesspool of venom at times, particularly with social media. At the same time, you have legal rights and if what others are saying about you is not true online and caused you damage to your reputation you may have a case if it has been published within the last 12 months, he further added
Ms Asthana said, “Defamation on social media will become a bigger issue in the coming times and if you want to avoid being sued and pay hefty damages, then avoid posting anything unless you have verified the authenticity of the information. If for any reason your post is considered defamatory, you should withdraw/delete the post as soon as possible, apologise to the person concerned and pay any legal fee that they may have incurred.”
One takeaway which Mr Aloke Kumar pointed out from this episode is “Neither bully nor let anyone bully. Never get scared of such people. Teach them the lesson that they will remember for life.”
Talking to The Australia Today Mr Raghupathy alleged, “He did not receive any hearing date notice. How could I know when to go and defend myself.”
He claims to be a former employee of Indian national newspapers and said “I fight for the truth and now I will fight for myself.”
“I have faith and trust on court system in Australia and I am sure I will get justice.”
NOTE: This story will be update as and when we hear more.