Liability for Third Party Comments on Social Media

Fairfax & Others v Voller (“Voller”) is the latest defamation case which finds Facebook page owners liable for content posted by third parties on the social media platform.

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Media outlets published details of Mr Voller’s treatment at a youth detention centre in 2016 and he subsequently sued a number of media outlets in respect of the information published by them on Facebook.

The NSW Supreme Court found that the media defendants and Facebook page owners liable for the information published which were defamatory.

Whilst the Voller case was heard in Australia and governed by Australian law, this is a significant development in the media world as it will change the risk posed by Facebook page owners. Having the ability to restrict and review posts on Facebook puts the page owners in the driving seat when controlling the content that is published on there.

The Stocker case heard by the UK Supreme Court in 2020, which concerned Mrs Stocker who published defamatory comments regarding her ex-husband highlighted that caution should always be applied when writing on social media but the courts take a common-sense view on what was meant by words online as they can be interpreted differently by each individual.

As social media continues to be a place where defamatory comments go unreported, whether or not business users’ of social media platforms will allow comments or decide to report potentially defamatory comments is not clear.

Not all business owners will be able to accurately identify or have the time/resources to police all comments on their page until there are clear rules on what their responsibilities are. Until then, social media platforms will continue to set out clear guidelines on what is acceptable to post online and over time we are likely to see further information emerge.

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