Volunteer receives sickening threats after Facebook posts
Warning: Coarse language
A BUNDABERG pet rescue volunteer who received death treats after being wrongly shamed on social media is calling on people to think before they post.
The woman, who only wanted to be known as Juliet, said it started when she left some rescue dogs in her car with the airconditioning running while she dropped off a donation box.
"I put the pups in going for a drive because I had to take pups to the vet," she said.
When she came out of the shop a short time later, Juliet said she noticed a couple standing nearby, but they didn't say anything.
It was only when she checked her phone that messages started arriving telling her a photo of her car as well as the make, model and licence plate had been posted online.
Juliet said it started with a post on the Red Collar Rescue Facebook page, where she volunteers.
"(Red Collar Rescue founder) Sharyn had said to her straight away that the car would have been running," Juliet said.
"I put a comment underneath it and said the car was running."
But a post soon appeared on another public Bundaberg Facebook page.
"Within five minutes there was something like 500 disgusting posts," Juliet said.
"I won't repeat the language they were using - it just got out of control."
Juliet said people had soon put "two and two together" because of her name and birthdate being on her personalised plates.
"Then my phone started and people were ringing me," she said.
"People were leaving comments like 'you should die like a dog in a wet box' and 'you should die' and 'you're a dog'.
"I've never had 500 people in one day tell me how much of an a******* I am and how much I should die."
Juliet said she was then forced to take drastic measures by changing her number plates and switching vehicles with another volunteer.
"There were enough threats that I thought one of them was going to go through with it," she said.
"I didn't deserve what I copped from these people."
Red Collar Rescue founder Sharyn Banks said Juliet was one of her hardest working volunteers and the charity had been deeply concerned for her safety after the reaction to the posts.
"There was just no reason for it," Mrs Banks said.
"It's like all of a sudden the villagers have all got their pitch forks and they're all out for blood without knowing any truth or anything.
"People were saying they ought to go around and smash her car up or bash her or shoot her in the head."
Mrs Banks, who described it as a "vicious, vicious attack", said Juliet had been a hardworking volunteer whose life revolved around making sure the region's unwanted dogs and cats were cared for.
She often spends days cleaning up after the dogs at the shelter and drives to Brisbane at the drop of a hat when it's needed by either Red Collar Rescue or feline rescue group Cat Connections.
"I would never hurt a dog," Juliet said.
"I wouldn't leave my dogs locked in a car."
Juliet said the people who posted the images online had not made any attempt to open the car doors and if they had, they would have realised they were unlocked and the airconditioning was running.
What the law says about posting to Facebook
Bundaberg solicitor Edwina Rowan said it was not generally illegal to post photos online that were taken in public.
"However, people posting photos or comments on Facebook need to be aware that they can be liable for defamation," she said.
"Defamation laws extend to posts put online and for this reason need to be very careful about what the post online because it can have far reaching consequences and can be very expensive."
Ms Rowan described defamation as communicating information including words and images that were likely to affect that person's reputation.
"The defamation laws in Queensland say that to be defamatory what has been published must have been published to at least one other person," she said.
"There are a couple of recent cases that talk about the 'grapevine effect' where dissemination of the defamatory material can occur through secondary publication on Facebook.
"This means that if someone shares a defamatory post they too can be found liable for defamation."
Ms Rowan said the consequences of posting defamation online could be significant.
"If the Facebook publication has caused loss and damage including emotional hurt, humiliation and embarrassment or reduction of the person's professional reputation or standing, monetary damages could be claimed," she said.
"The courts will look at whether there is a wider effect, for example if the publication has impacted on the person's standing in the community.
"If a court finds that what has been published is defamatory the person is presumed to have had their reputation damaged.
"The court may look at the amount of damage to the person's reputation to assess the amount of damages to award.
"Other legal ramifications include an injunction being granted preventing further publication of the defamatory material."
There are a number of defences to defamation which include contextual truth, Ms Rowan said.
"That is, if the claims made are substantially true and do not further harm the person's reputation there may be a defence.
"Another defence is if the publisher can prove that the post was of honest opinion and in the public interest."
Ms Rowan said the laws in Queensland were very clear in that people should try to resolve defamation proceedings without resorting to litigation.
"Often this will involve an offer by the person who published the material to make amends by paying an amount of compensation and offering (and publishing) a genuine retraction and an apology," she said.