The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling made last year which deems media outlets as legally responsible for any defamatory comments made on their social media pages.
The ruling comes after a consortium of publishers lodged an appeal after it was ruled the companies had “published” defamatory comments about former Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller on various Facebook posts.
The comments were published on the Facebook pages of The Australian, The Centralian Advocate, Sky News Australia’s The Bolt Report, and The Sydney Morning Herald in 2016.
Despite not facing defamation proceedings for the Voller story, Bauer Media, Seven West Media and Daily Mail Australia each attempted to intervene in the appeal, given the potential ramifications of the ruling.
“Each defendant was not merely a conduit of the comment,” said Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rothman in his judgment last year.
“[They] provided the forum for its publication and encouraged, for its own commercial purposes, the publication of comments.
“A defendant cannot escape the likely consequences of its action by turning a blind eye to it.”
In this morning’s judgement, the court ruled that through arrangements with Facebook and by inviting members of the public to comment on news stories, these news outlets had “provided the vehicle for publication”.
“They facilitated the posting of comments on articles published in their newspapers and had sufficient control over the platform to be able to delete postings when they became aware that they were defamatory,” said judge John Basten.
Facebook does not allow the pre-moderation of comments, nor does it give users the ability to turn comments off.
However, the judge argued media companies could have used a filter to get rid of the majority of defamatory comments.
The decision to uphold the ruling carries with it serious ramifications for both media outlets and digital platforms.
In a submission released earlier this year, Facebook argued that by upholding the decision, media outlets would be discouraged from using Facebook altogether.
“If the Voller decision is upheld, all secondary publishers could face disincentives to participate online and enable debate and free expression,” Facebook said.
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