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Sticks and stones...

Using the message boards to treat each other with respect and maintain a healthy sense of humour

By Trade Me 5 February 2021

Keeping Trade Me message boards a safe place to chat

I think some of us could all do with re watching Disney’s ‘Bambi’ right now.

Who remembers Thumper’s rule: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”?

You’ve probably seen that Kiwi media has been in a bit of a twitter over rumours being spread about a certain well-known individual who happens to be the partner of an even more well-known individual.

Here in NZ we have defamation laws and the Harmful Digital Communications Act to address such issues.

Defamation boils down to saying something that has the potential to damage someone’s reputation. This could be said or written to one or more people.

Under the Harmful Digital Communications Act this includes online interactions, including those on Trade Me.

If you say something that is technically true but will result in people taking it the wrong way, then it can also be considered defamatory. I think Steven Price (NZ law professor, not league legend) sums this up the best:

“imagine I wrote that you often visited brothels. I may be able to prove this is true. You may visit brothels every day, making deliveries of wine. But that’s not what readers will think, is it? They will read between the lines and gather that I’m saying you frequently sleep with prostitutes. This is the “sting” of the article. It might be quite defamatory, especially if you are married or strongly religious.

If what you’re saying has the potential to mislead the audience into thinking things that damage a reputation, then you may be breaking the law and should pause on posting, make yourself a cuppa, remember Thumper’s adage and rethink your message.

It doesn’t necessarily help if you don’t use a specific name, as alluding to a person or group can do just as much damage. It also doesn’t help if you layer your message with innuendo or humour. We enjoy a giggle just as much as you do, but a winky face and a chuckle can’t protect you from the law.

Relaying a defamatory message or spreading a rumour will mean you’ll be able to be held liable. As tempting as it might be, adding the word ‘alleged’ won’t save you either, as this is just a tricky way of spreading a rumour.

That’s why you’ll often find a media outlet reports on a story of rumours being spread, without including what the rumours were.

If you’re a Trade Me member you’ve agreed to not list anything defamatory, and if you’re using Trade Me message boards you’ve agreed to not make any defamatory statements, to respect others and to keep it legal via our terms and conditions.

Trade Me message boards are a pretty dumb place to be breaking the law as we have a whole team whose job it is to protect the space’s rules when things go wrong. You also always leave a digital footprint when communicating as a Trade Me member.

Here at Trade Me HQ, our fourth and most straightforward value is “Don’t be a dick: We’re straight up, transparent and we do the right thing. We cherish individuality and treat people with respect. And we maintain a healthy sense of humour.”

I think this encapsulates the issue here quite well. Although this rule was created for people who work at Trade Me, we recommend all members keep it in mind when using our site.

If you have concerns over comments made on Trade Me, you can lay a complaint with us and if you ever see questionable material that you think breaches Trade Me’s rules or may be illegal, please let us know via our Community Watch function.

If you need advice or help about harmful content online, you can contact Netsafe. Netsafe offer a free and confidential service to help you understand the options available to you for dealing with the situations like online bullying or abuse. This includes other types of bullying and abuse using digital technology like voicemail and text.

If you’re still in doubt whether you should be saying what you’re saying head over to Steven Price’s explanation of defamation, he makes it pretty clear!