Asia - Pacific

Australian media can be sued for social media comments: Court

High Court of Australia finds that media outlets were ‘publishers’ of comments on their social media pages

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 08.09.2021
Australian media can be sued for social media comments: Court


Australian media outlets can be sued for comments made by readers on their social media accounts, the country’s top court said on Wednesday.

“Appellants were liable for the publication of allegedly defamatory ‘comments’ that were posted by third-party Facebook users in response to the content,” the High Court of Australia observed.

The decision came after the court rejected appeals by some of Australia's biggest media houses.

The media outlets had appealed against a defamation case filed by Dylan Voller, a former Northern Territory detainee, who accused them of “publishing” defamatory comments on their Facebook pages.

However, there was a debate going on whether the media outlets were the “publishers” of such material.

“The High Court by majority dismissed the appeals and found that the appellants were the publishers of the third-party Facebook user comments,” said the court in a statement.

“A majority of the Court held that the liability of a person as a publisher depends upon whether that person, by facilitating and encouraging the relevant communication, ‘participated’ in the communication of the defamatory matter to a third person,” it added.

The court rejected the appellants’ argument that for a person to be a publisher “they must know of the relevant defamatory matter and intend to convey it.”

“Each appellant, by the creation of a public Facebook page and the posting of content on that page, facilitated, encouraged and thereby assisted the publication of comments from third-party Facebook users. The appellants were therefore publishers of the third-party comments,” the court observed.

The unprecedented judgement came in view of a 2016 case when images of a cruel treatment meted out to 17-year-old Voller in youth detention was exposed in a TV report.

It sparked a national outcry and many Facebook users made derogatory comments on news stories shared on social media by the media houses.

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