The Australian High Court ruled in September 2021 that media companies like newspapers and TV stations were liable for defamatory third-party comments on their public Facebook pages. The impact of the decision has been felt far and wide. Australian politicians turned off the commenting function on their own Facebook pages to avoid liability, while the Australian government began drafting legislation to make social media companies themselves legally responsible for harmful user posts.
The ruling was connected to a defamation suit brought by a former youth detention center inmate against major Australian media outlets in 2017 over user comments on the outlet’s Facebook pages. The problem began with one TV station broadcasting images of the man in a restraint chair with a hood covering his face while he was a detainee in 2016. Several other news outlets then published the images and put them on their Facebook pages. The scenes sparked a furious debate in Australia about conditions at its youth detention centers. But it also unleashed a flood of online abuse against the man.
For example, the comments on a news piece about the man posted by one media firm almost uniformly blamed him for his treatment, and some were outright lies, including that he had raped an elderly woman. The man filed a damages suit against three Australian media giants for defamation for not deleting these comments from their Facebook pages.