Anyone Is A Publisher: How The Voller Decision Could Shake Up Defamation Law

Thumbs down. Like and dislike icons for social network. Hand gesture. Vector illustration

The media industry may need to start preparing for a dramatic shift in defamation laws, after the High Court ruled in favour of Northern Territory youth detain Dylan yesterday.

While the case between Nine, News Corp and Voller is now set to return to the Supreme Court, yesterday’s decision could have major ramifications on the definition of a ‘publisher’ moving forward.

The High Court decided that these news organisations were legally the publishers of defamatory comments made by individuals on articles that were shared on Facebook.

Simply by creating a Facebook page that facilitated these defamatory comments, the news outlets were participating in the communication of these defamatory comments, the court ruled.

And while the decision yesterday focused on Voller and the respective publications, it has been pointed out that the decision could carry influence across the industry.

As UWA Law School senior lecturer Michael Douglas pointed out “any person or business who encourages comments on social media is a ‘publisher’ of those comments. This means risk for everyone”.

This means brands, influencers and individuals who post on social media could all be held responsible for comments that are left on their posts.

Turn off comments

It is worth pointing out that when the defamatory comments about Voller were made back in 2016, Facebook did not give page administrators the option to turn off comments – something which is now common across social media.

Today, Facebook and Instagram allows pages to turn off comments altogether, while Twitter allows users to restrict who can leave comments.

Earlier this year, Facebook significantly updated its controls around comments, making it possible for only friends or only profiles and pages mentioned in the original post to be able to comment.

“By adjusting your commenting audience, you can further control how you want to invite conversation onto your public posts and limit potentially unwanted interactions,” Facebook said.

“And if you’re a public figure, creator or brand, you too can choose to limit your commenting audience on your public posts to help you feel safe and engage in more meaningful conversations with your community.”

Given the High Court’s ruling on the Voller case yesterday, many social media pages might start utilising these controls more often.




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