Australian court rules media outlets can be sued for Facebook user comments

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Australian court rules media outlets can be sued for Facebook user comments

Australia’s highest court ruled that media outlets are “publishers” liable for defamatory comments posted by Facebook users on their social network pages.

The landmark ruling came after many mainstream outlets argued in vain that they could only be considered publishers if they were aware of defamatory messages, and meant to spread them.

Judges shot down that argument and ruled that outlets were responsible for offending comments by facilitating and encouraging discussions online.

The ruling paved the way for a lawsuit by Dylan Voller, a former juvenile detainee who wants to sue publishers and broadcasters.

The possible suit will target comments posted on the Facebook pages of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Centralian Advocate, Sky News Australia and The Bolt Report. His case has been on hold since 2017 while the courts sorted out the legality of the issue.

Australian courts had previously ruled that people could be held liable for defamatory statements on their platforms if they allowed them to continue after being made aware of them.

In Washington last year, former President Trump signed an executive order that limited a 1996 law that was designed to prevent internet companies from being treated as publishers.

Dylan Voller, a former juvenile detainee, seeks to sue news outlets for defamatory comments.
Dylan Voller, a former juvenile detainee, seeks to sue news outlets for defamatory comments.
AP

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act contributed to the rapid rise of the internet by protecting companies from lawsuits. But Trump argued the law also allowed tech giants to restrict free speech.

The order demanded “transparency and accountability from online platforms,” and encouraged “standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.”

In December, Trump vetoed a defense spending bill because it did not repeal Section 230. The veto was overridden by Congress, although Democrats, including President Biden, have also called for the law to be tightened or revoked over concerns of social networks spreading misinformation.

Former Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai announced plans to “clarify the meaning” of the provision last year after Facebook and Twitter censored The Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden‘s foreign business dealings, but later backed off that stance before leaving office.

Current Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has publicly indicated she does not want the FCC to be involved in retooling Section 230.

With AP wires

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