Will Aussie publishers ditch Facebook comments?
A major court ruling across the Tasman effectively strips away any perceived safe harbour provisions media companies thought they enjoyed when it comes to comments left on social media platforms.
The High Court of Australia yesterday found that media companies with Facebook pages encouraged comments from other users and therefore should be considered publishers of the comments. The summary judgement from the court suggested that if defamatory comments were posted on a media outlet's Facebook page, the publisher would be responsible for them and potentially liable for legal action.
The ruling has been slammed by Australia's media outlets who now face the complicated task of moderating all comments on Facebook if they wish to continue allowing commentary from users there.
Facebook comments on media posts, particularly on controversial subjects such as Covid-19 vaccination, climate change and politics can quickly descend into ad hominem attacks, so the threat of being hit with defamation proceedings is very much real.
Australian movie star Rebel Wilson won an A$4.7 million defamation suit against magazine publisher Bauer Media in 2018, before being ordered to repay most of that after a successful appeal by the publisher.
Faced with the prospect of expensive legal action and the need to invest more in content moderation, many publishers may simply disable all comments on Facebook. Some would argue that doing so would radically improve Facebook's usability, but would also serve to undermine the whole point of "social" media.
The ruling stems from a case involving Dylan Voller, a former detainee in a juvenile detention centre who became the subject of media coverage and of defamatory comments by Facebook users writing underneath the articles posted by media outlets.
While the ruling sets a precedent, the issue will now be argued over in other courts while media outlets reconsider their social media moderation policies. It comes after a rough period for media outlets and their relationship with Facebook after the social media giant temporarily blocked media outlets from the platform earlier this year.
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