An Australian electrician has been ordered to pay $150,000 in damages, after he wrote and shared a false Facebook post claiming that a local elderly motel owner was giving refuge to pedophiles.
74 year-old Kenneth Rothe was threatened and assaulted, and his business’ reputation was destroyed, after electrician David Scott spread the false rumor on his Facebook page.
“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?” posted Scott, which was then picked up and shared by the Nambucca Valley Crime Information page on Facebook.
Consequently, Rothe had his life “seriously threatened” during two assaults after the Facebook post, and it is reported that just before the first assault, someone even asked him whether he was “the Blue Dolphin paedophile”, a reference to his motel, the Blue Dolphin.
Before legal action took place, Rothe reportedly “begged” Scott to remove the post and issue an apology, but Scott refused, defending his actions and arguing that as a father, he had every right to warn people about “potential dangers”.
Judge Judith Gibson found that the allegations had no basis, and that Scott had failed to verify the rumors he had heard from others before posting the rant.
“This Facebook attack was made on him out of the blue, with no prior inquiry of any kind by any person” said Judge Gibson.
“It has had a devastating effect on him… 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… 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, or alternatively want to humiliate or “troll” other members of the community for the purpose of gratifying their own wishes or fears of for the purpose of gaining attention.”