The High Court has upheld a decision that media outlets can be held responsible for third-party comments on their Facebook posts.
The decision came in response to former Don Dale inmate Dylan Voller, who launched a defamation action against the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Sky News in the New South Wales Supreme Court in July 2017.
Voller claimed damages for defamation based on 10 third-party comments posted on the media outlet’s Facebook pages in 2016 and 2017.
Content of the comments included allegations of heinous crimes and so caused Voller considerable “emotional and mental distress”. Despite launching defamation action, Voller’s case has been on hold due to an appeal by involved media companies.
On Wednesday, the High Court rejected the appeal from the media companies which argued they were not responsible nor participated in the comments and they had been written by third parties on a public platform.
Justice Rothman found that by hosting public pages and encouraging public commentary, the outlets had participated in and were instrumental to the comments being posted.
O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors, who represented Voller, said the decision was “common-sense” and was in accordance with “longstanding law on the issue of publication”.
“It is commonly known that media companies encourage increased engagement on their posts so that their content is seen by a larger audience. This helps in attracting advertising revenue,” they said.
“With this strong commercial imperative driving them there was no doubt that the media companies lent their assistance to the publication of third-party comments.
“They did everything they could to encourage the same and it is disingenuous of them to say they played no role in publication of the same.”
The firm described the decision as an “historic step”.
“This is an historic step forward in achieving justice for Dylan and also in protecting individuals, especially those who are in a vulnerable position, from being the subject of unmitigated social media mob attacks,” they said.
“This decision put responsibility where it should be; on media companies with huge resources, to monitor public comments in circumstances where they know there is a strong likelihood of an individual being defamed.
“Dylan is very happy with the decision. He feels a sense of vindication and also a sense of achievement in that this is a decision that protects us all.”
With Wednesday’s ruling, Voller’s defamation action will continue.
By Rachael Knowles