An Australian man has been ordered to pay $150,000 in damages for a defamatory Facebook post.
In March 2014, electrician David Scott wrote a post on the social media site claiming that Blue Dolphin Motel, a motel run by Kenneth Rothe, 74, was being used as a relocation site for sex offenders. Scott was ordered to pay $150,000 in damages after Rothe suffered assaults that left him hospitalized. His family became so fearful that some members moved out of the state, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Scott's post said: "Pedophile 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?"
Rothe owned the Blue Dophin and Nirvana Village motels as well as a rental apartment in Nambucca Heads, which he said he had offered as crisis accommodation for those who were trying to escape family disputes, but said that the housing had never been used for ex-prisoners or pedophiles.
Rothe reportedly asked Scott to retract his statements and apologize for them, but Scott did not do either.
When Rothe was assaulted for the first time, someone had allegedly asked him, "Are you the Blue Dolphin pedophile?"
Rothe was later assaulted again, and needed to be hospitalized for six months.
There is no indication that Scott was directly involved in the assaults.
After Scott's Facebook post, Rothe began receiving calls at his motels, some asking for sex, according to The Financial Express. A Facebook page called Nambucca Valley Crime Information had also reportedly republished the post.
"It would be fair to say that the publication of the matter complained of has destroyed the plaintiff's wellbeing as well as his peace of mind," said Judge Judith Gibson. "It has had a devastating effect on him."
Scott said that he had every right to warn the community about about potential dangers. Gibson said that she had found that Scott's claims did not have any factual basis, and that he had not made an attempt to verify the information after hearing it from others before he made the post on Facebook.
"The anonymity, instantaneousness 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, or alternatively want to humiliate or 'troll' other members of the community," said Judge Gibson, warning against defamatory posts on social media.