Trolls to pay $150k to wedding planner after Facebook slurs
Two vicious trolls are facing bankruptcy after they posted negative reviews and personal slurs on social media to sabotage a rival wedding planner.
In a landmark court ruling that lawyers say will open the floodgates for lawsuits over social media smears, a Queensland court has ordered Kellie Maree Smith, 32, and Stacey Lee Isaac, 33, to pay a combined $150,000 for 10 online posts about wedding planner Tristan Moy.
Ms Smith, an unemployed single mother of two from Mount Tamborine, only found out yesterday that she had been ordered to pay $50,000 plus $9750 interest for seven posts attributed to her in the defamation claim.
She said there was "no way" she could afford to pay it.
"Oh sh*t, oh wow, I'm going to go bankrupt. I didn't even know it was happening," Ms Smith said yesterday.
In an extraordinary plea to social media users, Ms Smith said everyone must see her story as a cautionary tale.
"Everyone needs to be careful. This is a warning to everyone, think before you type," Ms Smith said.
"Everything and anything you post, can be used against you, even if it is your own opinion. I don't use Facebook any more. I'm done."
The offending posts included claims that Ms Moy - a 33-year-old from Brisbane who moved to Bali and set up a business arranging weddings for Australian tourists - tries to ruin her clients' weddings, bullies her clients, provides horrible service and is unprofessional as a wedding planner, among others.
Ms Isaac uploaded to her Facebook group the post: "I know I for sure wouldn't hire someone to plan my wedding day who would sabotage another brides wedding day."
Ms Smith, who never engaged Ms Moy's wedding planning service, posted to the same Facebook group in 2017: "The fact she tried to ruin my wedding day is a joke! Try to get the venue (sic) cancel my wedding!"
The posts were published repeatedly in a Facebook wedding group in February 2017, with some posts authored by Ms Isaac as recently as March 2018, after the lawsuit was filed.
One post was on Ms Moy's business listing on Google for her Bali Brides Wedding Planner business, another on the Bridestory.com website.
Bizarrely, Ms Smith was trolling a woman she had never met in person.
Ms Smith told The Sunday Mail she came into contact with Ms Moy online after Ms Moy got Ms Smith in trouble with a restaurant where she was planning to get married, after Ms Smith posted their venue hire rates online.
But Ms Moy argued in court that Ms Smith's real motive for attacking her on Facebook was to help her friend Ms Isaac's emerging wedding planning business.
Ms Isaac, who said she was unaware of the court decision, denies she is a direct competitor of Ms Moy as she is a makeup artist and not a wedding planner, according to her defence filed in court.
Ms Isaac claimed, outside of court, Ms Moy sued her because Ms Isaac matched with Ms Moy's then-husband on Tinder. Ms Moy said in her affidavit that she was "devastated to read" her husband had met Ms Isaac on Tinder and had planned to date her.
Ms Isaac, from Notting Hill in Victoria, has been ordered to pay $100,0000 plus interest for the four online comments she posted in 2017 and 2018.
"I don't think its fair that my life is going to be destroyed over this," Ms Isaac told The Sunday Mail yesterday from her salon in Mentone called Opia Hair and Beauty. "I don't have $100,0000 - if I have to go bankrupt I'm going to lose everything."
Ms Isaac says she plans to appeal the decision.
Ms Moy was awarded the $150,000 last Monday by Magistrate John Smith for hurt and humiliation.
Ms Isaac was sued both for her online posts and because she was the owner and administrator of a bridal Facebook page, which had more than 1000 followers and where most of the defamatory posts were made.
Barrister Alex Nelson told the court that the damages needed to "send a message to the world" that the things said about Ms Moy were false.
Ms Smith and Ms Isaac did not appear in court and no solicitor attended court but they filed defences of justification in court in 2017.
"I was planning on going to court. I was going to defend myself," Ms Isaac said. "I am shocked by the outcome. I felt sick to my stomach.
"I am just crushed," Ms Isaac said of Ms Moy.
Ms Isaac's damages are higher because she must pay "aggravated damages" as the court found that even after she was sued in 2017, she made another defamatory post online in 2018.
Mr Nelson, barrister for Ms Moy, told the magistrate during Monday's hearing that some of the defamatory posts "will be on the internet, in the dark corners, forever".
Ms Smith told The Sunday Mail that she was unaware that defamation law existed when she made the posts.
"I was young and I was an idiot and was stupidly led by peer pressure," she said.
One of Ms Isaac's posts was found to have implied that Ms Moy had had Ms Isaac deported from Bali, a claim Ms Moy denies.
Before she moved to Bali in 2014, Ms Moy lived in Drewvale, south of Brisbane, and worked as a sales coach for TSA Telco Group.
In her affidavit Ms Moy said the court the 10 posts were humiliating to her as a mother and a person.
"I have never at any time tried to ruin a bride's wedding day," she said.
"I have never at any time had Kellie Smith as a client," she states in her affidavit.
"I have spent many nights in tears reading the comments from these girls and comments made by strangers who have written about me after reading their statements about me," she says in her affidavit.
Ms Moy said she was relieved the case was over.
"To them it was all a joke, they did not take it seriously," she said of the pair.
Ms Moy's solicitor, Australian Law Partners' Duke Myrteza, said the landmark case was a warning.
"I expect there will be many more cases involving Facebook posts before our courts in the future," he said. "This case is a clear warning to everybody who uses Facebook or other social media platforms that anything defamatory you post online can have serious consequences.
"This result means so much more to our client than money as it allows her to go to Google and other social media platforms to ask these posts be taken down so she can move on with her business without this dark shadow being cast over her reputation."
The Sunday Mail is yet to access Magistrate Smith's full reasons given in court.