US news giant Cable News Network (CNN) has become the first major international media company to disable its Facebook pages in Australia after the High Court ruled publishers are liable for defamatory comments made on their Facebook pages.
In a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, CNN said it had approached Facebook to see whether the platform would disable the comment functionality on its Australian pages but the social media behemoth chose not to.
“We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure its platform is a place for credible journalism and productive dialogue around current events among its users,” the statement said.
The NSW Court of Appeal ruled in June last year that news outlets including this masthead, and The Australian were liable as publishers of readers’ Facebook comments about former Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller because they facilitated the comments by posting on their public Facebook pages.
The media outlets lost a High Court appeal of the decision earlier this month and were ordered to pay Mr Voller’s legal costs.
The Court of Appeal said media outlets were legally responsible as publishers of Facebook comments “from the outset” because they “encouraged and facilitated” the comments by having Facebook pages. The court said it was immaterial that they deleted the comments after becoming aware of them.
The decision cleared the path for Mr Voller to sue the media outlets for defamation over the third-party comments in the NSW Supreme Court. However, the news outlets still have the opportunity to argue defences to the defamation, including the innocent dissemination defence, and the court is yet to decide if the comments are in fact defamatory.
A spokesperson from Facebook said “while it’s not our place to provide legal guidance to CNN, we have provided them with the latest information on tools we make available to help publishers manage comments. We are also working closely with the review of defamation laws established by state, territory and federal Attorneys-General.”
The Facebook spokesperson disputed CNN’s assertion it does not support credible journalism, and said “we continue to provide Australians a destination for quality journalism, including through Facebook News which we launched in August.”
The company said it supports the ongoing reform of Australia’s defamation laws and ‘recent court decisions’ reaffirm the need for such reform.
At the time of the Voller decision, Facebook did not allow the hosts of public pages to pre-emptively turn off all comments on posts. Now, they’ve rectified the issue so that hosts of public pages have more control in limiting defamatory or otherwise unwanted views posted by users.
Last week, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said he would turn off comments on some posts on his Facebook page due to the Voller ruling.
“We know social media is a 24/7 medium, however, our moderation capabilities are not. As a result, there will be some changes to how users can interact with this page going forward,” Mr Gutwein posted.
“While our page is monitored closely, there may be some posts which have commenting capabilities turned off or user contributions restricted.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian are still weighing up how to manage the defamation risks in light of the High Court decision.
Even with the new ability to pre-emptively turn off comments, media organisations and other entities with large Facebook followings may choose to follow CNN’s lead and disable their pages. Other options include not posting content that is likely to attract high-risk comments, or employing someone to monitor comments around the clock.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
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