In a landmark judgment, Australia’s highest court ruled that the country’s media can be held liable for defamatory comments posted by readers on their social media posts.
The decision may have far-reaching implications as Australian news organizations and others will have to rethink the ways in which social media is used.
The ruling came in a case where a former teenage prisoner sued media companies for comments posted on Facebook under articles about his mistreatment in detention.
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In this case, Nine Entertainment and News Corp Australia could face damages.
Experts say the move could have ramifications for anyone with a large online audience, not just news editors. It could also influence libel cases globally.
The cruel treatment of 17-year-old Dylan Voller, who was in juvenile detention, was exposed in a TV report in 2016.
The shocking photos of him chained to a chair in a spit hood had sparked an uproar. The revelation had led to a public inquiry into the mistreatment of detainees in the Northern Territory’s juvenile detention system.
There was extensive media coverage, which included articles shared on Facebook by the editors.
Many users had also commented on Facebook posts about Voller, who was later released from detention in early 2017.
That year later, he sued the Sydney Morning Herald, now owned by Nine Entertainment, and News Corp’s The Australian and Sky News Australia for allowing comments, which he characterized as defamatory.
Voller’s legal team called it a “historic milestone” as the media expressed concern over the scope of the new precedent.