Voller v Natiowide News Pty Ltd [2019] NSWSC 766

FACTS

A news article was published by several media corporations, and links to this article were subsequently posted on their corresponding public Facebook pages. There were a number of comments made on these Facebook posts that amounted to defamation against the Plaintiff.

The owners of these corporations, as well as the administrators of the Facebook pages claimed that they cannot be held liable for the comments of others, as they cannot control what third party users post online. This was done under the defence of innocent dissemination.

The Court in this case looked at whether these Facebook pages could in fact be held liable for comments made by third party users.

EVIDENCE

The Court heard evidence from experts regarding the privacy settings and practicalities that surround how a public Facebook page is run.

It was found that these corporations had the option to filter all comments on their page through Facebook’s privacy settings. This could be done by blocking any post that had obscenities in it, or by disabling all comments awaiting administrator approval before going public. Many of the corporations opted to allow their posts to go public, relying monitoring to remove any inappropriate comments.

The Court came to the conclusion that the dissemination of comments was not a result of the compiling of the comment, publication is taken to occur when the owner of the Facebook page allows the comment to be seen by the public, and not simply remain hidden.

REASONING

The Court must consider striking a balance between society’s freedom of speech and freedom to exchange ideas, and the maintenance of a person’s reputation in society. As each Facebook page had the power to remove, approve or deny any comment on their posts, they are taken to have more responsibility for the comments that are made therein.

With this power, the Facebook pages are therefore taken to have complete control and power over their posts and are thus primary publishers.

OUTCOME

The Judge in this case found that owners of public Facebook pages are found to have published comments of third party users, and can therefore be held accountable and liable for any defamatory imputations made in these comments.

Public Facebook page administrators should be very careful about the type of comments they allow to remain on their page, as they can now be held liable for the words of others.