Australia’s biggest news editors, including Rupert Murdoch, the Australian, are responsible for the comments readers post on their corporate Facebook pages, the High Court ruled on Wednesday. The court dismissed an appeal against an earlier ruling that favored a defamation suit against Dylan Voller, a young man who had been the subject of several reports about juvenile detention.
“This is a common sense decision that is in line with longstanding law on the issue of publication,” said Voller’s lawyers, O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, in a statement following the ruling.
Voller said that after stories concerning him were posted on news companies’ Facebook pages, several Facebook users made defamatory comments and he claimed that the news outlets were responsible as editors.
Voller has filed suit against publishers, including Fairfax Media, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, which is owned by Nine, and others.
After a court ruled in Voller’s favor, the media filed an appeal on the grounds that they ran a Facebook page on which third parties posted their own material.
But the Superior Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the organizations to pay the costs.
“The acts of (media companies) in facilitating, encouraging, and thereby assisting third-party Facebook users to post comments have made them editors of those comments,” Judge Rothman concluded.
At the time the comments were posted, Facebook did not allow page moderators to disable comments on posts, however that has changed.
The case will now return to the New South Wales Supreme Court to determine whether any of the comments defamed Voller.
A Nine spokesperson said he was “disappointed with the result … as it will have ramifications for what we can post on social media in the future.”
Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the court’s decision was significant for anyone who maintains a public social media page.
“They can be held responsible for comments posted by other people on that page, even when they are not aware of those comments,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2021