In a recent case the majority of the High Court held that news outlets can be considered publishers of comments posted:
- by third parties (members of the public); and
- under articles on the news site's Facebook page;
for the purpose of defamation law.
Although arguably this has been the case for some time, the High Court decision has focused attention again on defamation laws when posting on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin etc).
Why did the Court make this decision?
The Court held that:
- Any act of participation in the communication of defamatory matter to a third party may be sufficient to make a person a publisher.
- An administrator of the Facebook page could "hide" comments until they had been reviewed and then un-hidden if approved.
- The news outlets encouraged the comments - the number of comments is an important aspect of the Facebook page because it increases the profile and popularity of the page - in turn increasing the readership of the news site and their revenue.
The news sites had the ability to review and prevent from being seen by the public any defamatory comments.
Practical tips for users of social media
- If comments are not important for your business and can be turned off on your webpage / social media site - turn them off.
- If you have the ability to hide comments until they are reviewed by you - you should enliven this feature and carefully review comments before they can be seen.
- If you cannot hide comments on the social media platform you are using, then review the comments regularly and quickly delete any which may be considered defamatory.
It is also important to understand what constitutes defamation. My article at the link below outlines 6 things you need to know about defamation.
In the judgment of Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller; Nationwide News Pty Limited v Voller; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller  HCA 27
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. Madgwicks is a member of Meritas, one of the world's largest law firm alliances.