The High Court decision in the Voller case concerns whether a publisher can be held responsible for comments readers post on its website. Specifically, the decision applies to Facebook but would appear to apply equally to any social media publisher, potentially including this website. Indeed, The Conversation seems sufficiently concerned to shut down all comment and discussion on the case in question – an over-reaction perhaps.
The majority High Court decision found that Facebook were a publisher, upholding the findings of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. The appeal judges had found that the media companies facilitated and encouraged the posting of comments by third parties on articles made available on their public Facebook pages. In doing so, the media companies participated and were instrumental in bringing about publication of allegedly defamatory matter, irrespective of whether others also participated in the publication
This decision may mean that any social media website can be sued in defamation as a publisher over any offensive or damaging comments posted by readers and contributors. Potentially, this means that moderation of every post will have to take place before it is published or alternatively that no third party comment will be invited.
So far, the major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like have strongly resisted being tagged as publishers. They have maintained that they merely provide a platform to facilitate comment and discussion : all that may be about to change in Australia at least.
Watch this space as further clarification on this majority High Court decision takes place and the full implications on the implied right to freedom of speech are explored : ironically The Conversation a site where you would normally expect reasoned academic discussion have already decided that this subject is too hot to handle.
Interesting times !
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