A man has been awarded $35,000 in damages after a judge found he was defamed by a single post in a Sydney community Facebook group.
Local man Bruce Goldberg successfully argued the post in the Rose Bay group, by Alice Voigt in November 2018, conveyed imputations including that he was a danger to women and a stalker.
The online spat began when Mr Goldberg started a rival community Facebook group in 2017, after being banned from the “official” Rose Bay page.
The suburb is among Sydney’s most affluent, where the median house price is more than $3.8 million.
Weeks after the post, Mr Goldberg filed a statement of claim.
The NSW District Court was told the “official” page was a closed group and was not accessible to the public generally.
Ms Voigt’s defence said the material would have been seen by between 10 and 100 people, therefore was a “very limited” publication.
Mr Goldberg argued the readership would have been “at least in the hundreds”, fuelled by “chatter” in the community and the “sensational” nature of the post.
The imputations also included claims Mr Goldberg was “mentally unstable” and was “likely to kill women”.
Ms Voigt said she “sincerely regretted” and apologised to Mr Goldberg for the post, and had offered to pay him $5000.
That offer was later increased to $25,000.
Mr Goldberg began fresh defamation proceedings when another post appeared late in 2019, in which Ms Voigt included a link to a GoFundMe fundraising page for her court costs.
In that post, she said she was “a very strong advocate for women” and urged people to “show your support”.
The GoFundMe campaign had raised $4350 as of Thursday.
In its description, Ms Voigt said the past few years had been “extremely difficult”, including years in Family Court for a divorce in addition to the defamation proceedings.
She referred to Australia’s defamation laws as “archaic” and said they had “not caught up with social media”.
In an application for an injunction last year, Mr Goldberg’s lawyer Barrie Goldsmith claimed Ms Voigt showed a “blatant disregard” for the proceedings and had “thumbed her nose” at the legal process.
Mr Goldberg gave evidence that he was “shocked and speechless” when he read the post, and in the weeks after people yelled at him in the street and were whispering about him.
On one occasion he was asked by an old school friend to “explain himself”.
“I couldn’t think straight,” he said in his evidence.
“I thought my reputation to be … totally damaged and my credibility’s gone down the tube and there was not much I could do about it.”
District Court Judge Richard Weinstein’s ruling of $35,000 in damages including aggravated damages.
Judge Weinsten agreed the “slight” aggravation included subsequent posts which in substance repeated part of the defamatory material.