Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters
Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.
The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.
The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.
Reason first reported on this case in 2020 as it worked its way up through the courts, and Wednesday’s decision from the High Court of Australia is the final stop: The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.
The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.
Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to re
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