Australian media responsible for Facebook comments, court finds

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MELBOURNE, Sept. 8 (Reuters) – Australia’s largest news publishers, including Rupert Murdoch’s the Australian, are responsible for comments readers post on their corporate Facebook pages, the High Court ruled on Wednesday.

The court dismissed an appeal from an earlier ruling that had ruled in favor of a libel action brought by Dylan Voller, a young man who had been the subject of several reports on juvenile detention.

“This is a common sense move that conforms to long-standing law on the publication issue,” Voller’s attorneys O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors said in a statement after the ruling.

Voller had said that after posting articles about him on news companies’ Facebook pages, a number of third-party Facebook users made defamatory comments and he alleged that the media were responsible as publishers. .

Voller has filed a lawsuit against the publishers, including Fairfax Media, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, which is owned by broadcaster Nine, and others.

After a court ruled in favor of Voller, the media appealed on the grounds that they were running a Facebook page on which third parties posted their own material.

A 3D printed Facebook logo is placed between small figurines of people in front of a keyboard in this illustration taken on April 12, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

But the High Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the organizations to pay the costs.

“The actions of (media companies) to facilitate, encourage and thereby assist the posting of comments by third party users of Facebook made them publishers of those comments,” Justice Rothman said.

At the time the comments were posted, Facebook didn’t allow page moderators to turn off comments on posts, but that changed that.

The case will now go to the New South Wales Supreme Court to determine whether any of the comments defamed Voller.

A spokesperson for Nine said he was “disappointed with the outcome … as it will have ramifications for what we can post on social media in the future.”

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the court’s decision was important to anyone who maintains a public page on social media.

“They can be held responsible for comments posted by others on this page even if they are not aware of those comments,” he said.

Reporting by Melanie Burton Editing by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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