Australia Court Finds News Outlets Liable For Facebook Comments On Their Posts


New Delhi: An Australian court has ruled that the country’s news publishers are responsible for the comments their readers write in response to content posted on their corporate Facebook pages. 

Hearing the matter on Wednesday, Reuters reported, the High Court dismissed an appeal against a previous ruling that had found merit in a defamation suit filed by one Dylan Voller, a youth detainee whose case of mistreatment at a youth detention center had caught massive media attention.

Voller had filed a suit against several publishers, including Fairfax Media, which published the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper owned by broadcaster Nine.

In his appeal, he had said a number of third-party Facebook users made defamatory comments after stories referring to him were posted on the news publications’ Facebook pages. He argued that the news outlets as publishers were liable for action.

After a court admitted the suit, the media outlets lodged an appeal arguing that they only administered a Facebook page on which third parties publish their own content.

The High Court, however, dismissed the appeal and ordered the publishers to pay costs.

“The acts of the (media companies) in facilitating, encouraging and thereby assisting the posting of comments by the third-party Facebook users rendered them, publishers of those comments,” the court said in the ruling.

“This is a common-sense decision that accords with longstanding law on the issue of the publication,” Reuters quoted O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, Voller’s counsel, as having said after the ruling.

The New South Wales Supreme Court will now determine if the comments indeed defamed Voller.

‘Will Have Ramifications’

Facebook, which now allows page moderators to turn off comments on posts, did not do that at the time the comments in question were published.

Publishers have expressed disappointment over the court’s decision.

“…it will have ramifications for what we can post on social media in the future,” a spokesperson for Nine was quoted as saying in the Reuters report.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, said the court ruling was significant for everyone maintaining a public page on social media platforms.

“They can be liable for comments posted by others on that page even when they are unaware of those comments.”

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