A recent decision from Australia’s High Court has sent shockwaves throughout the continent. In a recent case, the nation’s highest judicial body ruled that media outlets were the “publishers” of defamatory comments made under articles on their Facebook pages. As a result, the court is now holding media outlets responsible for those comments.
The High Court’s decision centers around a young man named Dylan Voller. In 2017, an image of Voller strapped to a chair while wearing a spit hood was used in a story highlighting the poor conditions at Don Dale Youth Detention Center. According to a report from The Conversation, three media outlets published stories using his image and he felt the comments were defamatory. So, Voller launched a legal battle against the media outlets instead of the individual commenters. In 2019, the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled in Voller’s favor, but the defendants appealed to the High Court. Keeping in line with the 2019 decision, the High Court also ruled that media publishers were responsible for comments left on their Facebook pages.
“The Court of Appeal was correct to hold that the acts of the appellants in facilitating, encouraging and thereby assisting the posting of comments by the third-party Facebook users rendered them publishers of those comments. The appeals should be dismissed with costs,” the court’s decision reads.
This decision will hold extreme weight for media outlets moving forward. Popular Australian media outlets can now be sued for comments that are left on their pages. As a result, media companies will have to moderate their message boards or eliminate them altogether.
Voller’s legal battle is not over yet. The High Court ruled that the outlets were responsible for the comments left on their Facebook pages, but the court has not yet determined whether or not the comments were defamatory.