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Australian Court Rules Media Orgs Are Liable For Defamation Posted To Facebook

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An Australian Court has ruled that media organisations are liable for anything defamatory that’s published to the public Facebook pages of those media companies, even if it’s just posted by a random Facebook user.

 

Spoiler

The Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled today that Facebook pages controlled by the Australian media companies Fairfax, Nationwide News, and Sky News all contained defamatory content and that they should be held liable despite the fact that none of the news organisations published the content to Facebook themselves.

 

Dylan Voller, an Aboriginal-Australian whose abuse at a youth detention facility was documented by Australia’s public broadcaster in 2016, brought the lawsuit against a number of Australian news organisations for content on their Facebook pages that was posted by third parties. Facebook commenters reportedly made false allegations that Voller had attacked a Salvation Army officer, leaving him blind in one eye.

 

Voller never asked for the comments on Facebook to be taken down, at least according to the media companies. Previously in Australia, publishers were only liable for comments in which the subject of the defamation had asked them to be removed but failed to do so.

 

The preliminary decision, written by Justice Stephen Rothman, ruled that responsibility for publication was “wholly in the hands of the media company that owns the public Facebook page.” The crux of Rothman’s judgment rested on the idea that the news organisations were money-making enterprises that were profiting from the encouragement of comments on their Facebook pages.

 

“The primary purpose of the operation of the public Facebook page is to optimise readership of the newspaper (whether hardcopy or digital) or broadcast and to optimise advertising revenue,” Justice Rothman wrote. “The exchange of ideas on the public Facebook page is a mechanism (or one of the mechanisms) by which that is achieved.”

 

But representatives for the news organisations are shocked that they should be held liable for the comments of others on Facebook.

 

“It defies belief that media organisations are held responsible for comments made by other people on social media pages,” a spokesperson for News Corp Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

“It is ridiculous that the media company is held responsible while Facebook, which gives us no ability to turn off comments on its platform, bears no responsibility at all. News Corp Australia is carefully reviewing the judgment with a view to an appeal.”

 

As News Corp points out, the decision will likely be appealed to a higher court, but if it stands the ruling could have a chilling effect on speech in Australia. The nation of almost 30 million people is the only wealthy democracy in the world without some constitutional guarantee for freedom of expression.

 

“We are very happy with the judgment as it clarifies the law around social media platforms and paves the way for a broader understanding of how defamation proceedings can protect people in the context of new technology,” Voller’s attorney told the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Source


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Ooft, that doesn't sound like a very fair thing. That part at the end which notes that Oz is the only 'western' place without a freedom of expression rule is something I didn't know, and something that is quite chilling really. For once, I'll side with the news corporations on this one, I don't think it's very fair that me, some randomer, can go and post some racist or other derogatory comment on their pages and they're the ones that get the kick in the shins. Surely if I'm one the one spouting off, I should get the hit and not them? Seems like an odd move to be fair. 

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On the radio this morning I heard it said like this:

 

If a patron/customer/client came in sprouting their mouth off it is up to the establishment owners/managers to deal with that person so taking that in mind is it any different through a social media platform. 

 

I'll be interested to see the outcome of the case and how it affects future publications in all areas, media and social media.


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I agree. Especially considering that these were news organizations, they should have been more responsible about moderating their own public pages. They definitely knew better.

 

Quote

The crux of Rothman’s judgment rested on the idea that the news organisations were money-making enterprises that were profiting from the encouragement of comments on their Facebook pages.

 

Nobody should have a profit-motive to foster false allegations about anyone. That's what this is all about.

 

On 6/24/2019 at 2:21 PM, MarteeBe said:

I don't think it's very fair that me, some randomer, can go and post some racist or other derogatory comment on their pages and they're the ones that get the kick in the shins. Surely if I'm one the one spouting off, I should get the hit and not them? Seems like an odd move to be fair. 

 

In any even semi-professional Facebook page, your comments would be removed and/or you would be outright banned.  The fact that someone had to spell it out in law shows how shitty some people can be.


Kavawuvi: one of these days these glutes are gonna squawk all over you

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No that's very true @Sunstriker7 - I just would've not expected to have had to see something like this come into force. I can imagine the court case referenced will be an actual interesting one with respect to what's said, the interpretation of the law and how that will cascade across the platform if it get's that far. Surely Facebook should be doing more to aid pages in moderation and tools to manage it more effectively in my books. 

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