Parents are liable for their children - and everyone is liable for the shitstorm

Anyone who participates in a "storm of indignation in virtual space" on the internet and thus in a shitstorm is solely liable for the entire damage suffered by the victim. It does not matter whether the person concerned initiated the shitstorm or merely shared someone else's post on their social media account without checking it.

Background

In its legally binding decision of 26.04.2024, the Austrian Supreme Court (Az. 6Ob210/23k) ruled on liability for online postings.  

The plaintiff police officer was falsely accused of mistreating an 82-year-old man in a Facebook post by the defendant. The source of the accusation was a third party who published a video showing the police officer and incited a shitstorm against him. In fact, the police officer was on duty as part of a cordon at a demonstration against Covid-19 measures and was not involved in the alleged abuse. The plaintiff and his family suffered massively from the consequences of the shitstorm. The defendant, who shared the screenshot with the police officer's face on Facebook without verifying its veracity, was held fully liable by the court.

Facilitation of evidence

The Supreme Court clarified that the victim of a shitstorm is not obliged to provide detailed evidence of the source of each individual insult or emotional damage caused by the shitstorm. It is sufficient if the plaintiff can prove that he was the victim of a shitstorm and that the defendant participated in it in an unlawful and culpable manner. It is irrelevant whether the defendant initiated the shitstorm or merely shared unchecked posts.

Full liability of the individual participants in the shitstorm

The court's decision emphasizes the indivisibility of the damage in a shitstorm and the resulting joint and several liability of all participants. This means that the victim can demand full compensation from each individual participant in the shitstorm. This joint and several liability makes it easier for the victim to enforce their claim, as they are not forced to identify all the perpetrators involved and sue them separately. Instead, the defendant must overcome this hurdle and clarify their recourse claims internally with the other participants in the shitstorm.

Conclusion

The ruling is in line with European legislation, such as the Digital Service Act (DSA) of 16.11.2022, and case law, which increasingly punishes hate speech online. It strengthens the protection of victims and also serves as an important precedent for German case law due to the comparable rights of those affected in Germany. This ruling impressively demonstrates that participating in a shitstorm online can have serious legal consequences and sends a strong signal for the protection of personal rights in the digital space.

Seal