A High Court ruling that media companies are responsible for comments on their social media pages has led to calls for laws to be changed.
Dylan Voller had sued News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment over comments made on Facebook pages in 2018, leading to a 2019 Supreme Court decision in his favour. A judge found publishers “provided the forum” for the publication of the comments and “encouraged, for its own commercial purposes”, their publication.
News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said the High Court decision was significant for anyone who maintains a public social media page by finding they can be liable for comments posted by others on that page even when they are unaware of those comments.
“This highlights the need for urgent legislative reform and I call on Australia's attorneys general to address this anomaly and bring Australian law into line with comparable western democracies,” he said.
Nine said it was “obviously disappointed” with the decision, given its future ramifications. “We are hopeful that Stage 2 of the Review of the Model Defamation Provisions will take account of the High Court’s decision and the consequences of that for publishers”.
It also noted steps since taken by “the likes of Facebook” to allow publishers to switch off comments.
News and Nine had argued that an outlet must be aware of the defamatory matter and intend to convey it in order to be liable, and also their belief that responsibility should fall on the individual who left the defamatory comment.
A number of publishers had joined in the High Court appeal which has now been dismissed, with the court arguing that publishers had “facilitated, encouraged and assisted” publication of the comments merely by establishing a Facebook page and posting comments to it.
A statement for Dylan Voller stressed the importance of the decision in protecting individuals, “especially those who are in a vulnerable position”, from being the subject of unmitigated social media mob attacks.