Facebook Can Be Sued For User Comments, Court Rules

(FreedomBeacon.com)- A court ruling in Australia could have wide-ranging consequences for publishers across the world.

Australia’s High Court issued a ruling Wednesday that said the biggest news publishers in the country are now responsible for the comments that their readers post on the outlets’ Facebook pages. This includes big-name media companies such as The Australian, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

An appeal in the suit had been filed, but the High Court dismissed that case. In doing so, they ruled in favor of a young man who was filing a defamation suit. The man, Dylan Voller, was the subject of multiple media reports regarding youth detention.

In a statement after the ruling was made, O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, the lawyers who were representing Voller in the case, said:

“This is a common-sense decision that accords with longstanding law on the issue of publication.”

Once the stories about Voller and youth detention were published on the media companies’ Facebook pages, he said many Facebook users started posting defamatory comments about him. In his lawsuit, Voller said the media companies were liable for the comments that were posted on their pages, since they are publishers.

Voller then sued many publishers, including Fairfax Media, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper and is owned by Nine, a broadcasting company. Other companies were named as defendants in the lawsuit as well.

Voller won his case in the initial court, but the media companies appealed that decision. They based their argument around their claim that they are only administering a page on Facebook where third parties are able to publish material of their own.

The High Court disagreed with the media companies’ arguments, though, and dismissed their appeal. The court also ordered them to pay all costs.

In issuing the ruling, Justice Rothman said:

“The acts of the (media companies) is facilitating, encouraging and thereby assisting the posting of comments by the third-party Facebook users rendered them publishers of those comments.”

When the comments were published on the media companies’ pages, Facebook didn’t give page owners the ability to turn off comments on posts. Since then, though, the social media giant has altered that so it can be done.

Now that the High Court has dismissed the appeal, the case will go back to the New South Wales Supreme Court. There, the court will determine if the comments that were posted on the Facebook pages defamed Voller in any way.

A spokesperson for the company Nine said after the decision that the company was “disappointed with the outcome … as it will have ramifications for what we can post on social media in the future.”

Members of News Corp Australia agreed with that sentiment. The executive chairman of the company, Michael Miller, said the decision will be significant for any person or company who maintains a public page on any social media channel.

He explained:

“They can be liable for comments posted by others on that page, even when they are unaware of those comments.”