High Court rules media outlets could be liable for Facebook comments


• The ruling means that Dylan Voller can continue with his intention to sue media outlets

The High Court has thrown out an appeal by media outlets including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, ruling that media outlets are legally responsible for comments published on their Facebook pages.

The appeal was launched after last year’s ruling that media outlets were liable for comments made on their pages about former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre detainee, Dylan Voller.

The ruling means that Voller can continue with his intention to take the media outlets to the New South Wales Supreme Court because of alleged defamatory comments that were left on their public Facebook pages. Voller will also have his legal costs reimbursed by the media outlets. 

In 2016, images of Voller hooded and strapped into a mechanical restraint chair were broadcast by Four Corners. The episode was the catalyst for a royal commission into the Northern Territory’s youth detention system.

In a statement, Voller’s legal team said: “This is a historic step forward in achieved 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.

“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.”

Michael Miller, executive chairman at News Corp Australia said: “The decision by the High Court in the Voller case is significant for anyone who maintains a public social media page by finding they can be liable for comments posted by others on that page even when they are unaware of those comments. This highlights the need for urgent legislative reform and I call on Australia’s attorneys general to address this anomaly and bring Australian law into line with comparable western democracies.”

A Nine spokesperson said: “Nine recognises the decision of the High Court which makes news businesses liable for any post made by the general public on their social media pages as ‘the publisher’ of those comments.

“We are obviously disappointed with the outcome of that decision, as it will have ramifications for what we can post on social media in the future.”

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