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Media companies are somehow responsible for Facebook comments on articles, Australian Supreme Court Rules

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A Supreme Court judge in New South Wales, Australia has just made a ruling that media organizations are liable for allegedly defamatory comments posted on their public Facebook pages. This was the decision on the case filed by a youth detainee.

Dylan Voller, a Former Northern Territory youth detainee sued three media organizations, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, and the Centralian Advocate. Voller claims that comments on 10 Facebook posts published in 2016 and 2017 in the Facebook pages of the three media outlets carry a series of false and defamatory imputations against him.

Although he did not ask for the comments to be taken down, Voller launched defamation proceedings against the three media organisazions in the Supreme Court. His argument is that the media organizations published the comments of third parties.

A preliminary decision was issued by Justice Stephen Rothman stating that Mr. Voller has proven the alleged publication of the comments by the media organizations. As such, he ordered the media organizations to pay Mr. Voller the costs of the hearing. The court has not decided yet whether the comments are indeed defamatory.

The controversial decision did not go unnoticed by members of the Australian media community.

A News Corp Australia spokesperson said the ruling “shows how far out of step Australia’s defamation laws are with other English-speaking democracies and highlights the urgent need for change”.

“It defies belief that media organizations are held responsible for comments made by other people on social media pages. It is ridiculous that the media company is held responsible while Facebook, which gives us no ability to turn off comments on its platform, bears no responsibility at all,” the spokesperson said. “News Corp Australia is carefully reviewing the judgment with a view to an appeal.”

Arguing on his client’s case, Voller’s lawyer said that the media organizations had the power to remove or hide the comments but chose not to do so. The media organizations, on the other hand, argued that they did not publish the comments, had no liability for them and were not contacted by Voller to ask them to take down the comments.

The court ruling is said to be the first time that an Australian court finds Facebook page owners liable for comments left by others on their public pages. Previously, a page owner is liable only if the said owner failed to remove the comments after being told about them.

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