Friday November 28,2014 : A CAUTIONARY TALE ON USING FACEBOOK
Poker players find that throwing unsubstantiated accusations around can be expensive.
Stories abound regarding the consequences of abusing the use of social media, but one this week has poker players talking, involving as it does expensive defamation penalties totalling A$340,000 levied on four Australian poker fans.
It all started with a trip for five Aussie poker players to a major poker tournament in Las Vegas back in 2012, but ended in the courts and with friendships destroyed.
Plaintiff Nicholas Polias and his friend Tobin Ryall shared a room on the trip, and the latter wrongly accused Polias of stealing $2,000 (it later turned out to be a mistaken accusation by Ryall).
With the false allegation spreading, Polias took to Facebook to deny the accusations and explain what had really happened, and – as is the case with so many social media exchanges – that triggered several responses, including from Ryall, implying that Polias was a thief and that he manipulated people and lies to hide his alleged dishonesty.
Exacerbating an already serious situation, a second friend, Andy Hun Wei Lee, published comments on Facebook accusing Polias of trying to short-change another player during a poker game at The Star casino in Sydney. He also told another person that Polias was a "thief" who had stolen money from Ryall on the Las Vegas trip.
Two other former friends, Sandy Jan and Rhys Gould, also found themselves in trouble for repeating the false Las Vegas accusations against Polias before a poker party of 25 people in a Sydney restaurant.
Fearing the spreading defamation and its dangers to his reputation, Polias took legal advice and the matter ended before Justice Stephen Rothman in the New South Wales Supreme Court.
After a four day hearing earlier this year, the judge presented his findings this week, ordering Sandy Jan to pay $50,000 in damages for repeating the defamatory accusations about the Las Vegas trip made on Facebook.
Justice Rothman said neither Jan nor Gould knew anything about the Las Vegas incident, yet they spread the allegations they saw on Facebook among the close-knit "poker community".
Gould, who was at the same dinner as Jan, was ordered to pay $35,000 damages.
Ryall, who also admitted that he had given false evidence under oath during the case, found himself saddled with a $125,000 damages bill, whilst Andy Hun Wei Lee was ordered to pay $130,000 in damages because his conduct was particularly "vicious and malicious".
Justice Rothman was scathing of the four defendants, saying Ryall was "deliberately prevaricating, dissembling and lying" when giving evidence during the hearing.
He found that the four defendants had failed to prove that their allegations were true – their only defence – and referred to evidence which showed that in fact the disputed $2000 had been hidden in a soft toy in the hotel room and "…was never stolen … the money was never missing. The money was in the soft toy."
The judge further granted an injunction preventing the four defendants from continuing to publish the defamatory imputations or repeating them orally, and he noted that aggravated damages were appropriate because the four had failed to apologise, failed to remove the "scurrilous" Facebook posts and gave false evidence during the hearing.
Polias said he pleased with the ruling and the finalisation of the case. He said that he had been forced to take the matter to the courts because his former friends had continued to defame him after he warned them the comments were untrue.
"I'm just elated that my reputation has been restored; it's never really been about the money; it's just been about clearing my reputation,” Polias said.
"People should be very careful about what they write on social media because it spreads like wildfire and it can be really damaging to someone because it stays on Facebook for a long time.”