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Defamation case against Rob Pyne hears Facebook memes led to physical, mental health issues

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A court has heard social media posts shared by former Queensland MP Rob Pyne and a co-defendant caused Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) chief executive Greg Hallam ongoing mental and physical health issues.

Key points:

  • LGAQ chief executive Greg Hallam is suing former Queensland MP Rob Pyne and Lyn O’Connor over allegedly defamatory Facebook posts
  • Several witnesses testify Mr Hallam’s mental and physical health deteriorated after the posts were published
  • Mr Pyne denies liability while Ms O’Connor disputes Mr Hallam’s damages claim but not liability

Mr Hallam is suing the former member for Cairns and anti-corruption campaigner, Lyn O’Connor, for defamation over a total of 41 Facebook posts from 2017.

The alleged defamatory posts, which were published to public and private Facebook groups, involve a meme depicting fictional crime boss Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars film series wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the acronym LGAQ.

Mr Hallam’s solicitor, Michael Amerena, on Monday told the District Court in Cairns several witnesses will testify during the 12-day trial and give evidence that Mr Hallam completely changed as a person after the posts were published.

Exterior of Cairns Courthouse building.

The defamation case against former Queensland MP Rob Pyne and Lyn O’Connor is being heard in the District Court in Cairns.(

ABC News: Brendan Mounter

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‘Significant change to his personality’: witness

On the second day of the trial, the first of those witnesses took the stand.

Kara Hughes, who worked in the LGAQ’s human resources department for four years from August 2016, told the court Mr Hallam’s mental and physical health seriously deteriorated around the time the Facebook posts were published.

“There was a significant change to his personality, he was declining in his enthusiasm and motivation,” Ms Hughes told the court.

“He was still a good leader but he was frustrated easily.

“I didn’t see him laugh much towards the end of my employment there.”

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Ms Hughes told the court she had never seen the allegedly defamatory Jabba the Hutt meme but said she had seen a newspaper article referring to it in the LGAQ’s office kitchen.

LGAQ chief executive officer Greg Hallam leaves a hearing at the Crime and Corruption Commission in Brisbane.

Witnesses say Greg Hallam’s personality changed after the posts appeared in 2017.(

AAP: Dave Hunt

)

Ms O’Connor, who is representing herself in the matter, questioned whether other stresses in Mr Hallam’s life could have impacted his mental and physical health at the time.

“He was suffering generally from a lack of sleep and general exhaustion. He was taking a lot of personal days, sick leave days,” Ms Hughes told the court.

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Mr Pyne, who is also representing himself, asked Ms Hughes if a series of controversies involving local governments in Queensland in 2017 could have impacted Mr Hallam’s health as much as, if not more than, the Facebook posts.

“Those were matters he was used to dealing with,” Ms Hughes said.

Posts ‘cut deep’, court hears

Mr Hallam’s former executive assistant, Bronwyn Browning, told the court he became obsessed with social media around the time the Facebook posts were published.

“I initiated a number of discussions telling him to get off the iPad because he was constantly on it,” Ms Browning said.

“He was totally obsessed with it.”

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Ms Browning told the court the posts, particularly those allegedly shared by Mr Pyne “cut really deep”.

“His whole demeanour changed. He became quite frazzled and angry and uptight,” she said.

“The banter that we used to have didn’t really exist anymore.

“He was a different man, a completely different man. He’d lost his free spirit, he’d lost his mojo.”

Mr Pyne denies liability for the posts, and any damages claimed by Mr Hallam, while Ms O’Connor does not deny sharing the posts but disputes they were defamatory towards Mr Hallam’s and is arguing against his claim for damages.

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The trial is scheduled to continue for another 10 days.

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

See also  Facebook deletes main page of Myanmar military

Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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