A High Court ruling should make us take a closer look at how we monitor our social media comments.

On September 8, by a 5:2 majority, the High Court’s decision in Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller; Nationwide News Pty Limited v Voller; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2021] HCA 27 (Voller), has held that media publishers are liable for defamatory third party comments posted on their social media pages, because by facilitating and encouraging the comments they assist in their publication.

The effect of this judgment has ramifications well beyond Facebook and the media, applying to:

  • all people and organisations that maintain their own websites and social media pages, including non-media companies, not for profits and government bodies; and
  • all websites and social media pages, not just Facebook.

What does this mean to those using social media?

You are not only responsible for the content you place in this media but also all the comments that may result.

It is important to monitor what is being said in the comments and delete all those that could be interpreted as defamatory. Alternatively, switch off all comments. This function has been added to Facebook last March.

The media has commented that some politicians have enabling this function since the High Court’s decision. Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein explained his reason for switching off the comments section via The Guardian, “We know social media is a 24/7 medium, however, our moderation capabilities are not. As a result, there will be some changes to how users can interact with this page going forward.”

What should you do?

  1. It is essential all comments in social media are monitored.
  2. If you lack the resources to monitor and are concerned that your social media may fall victim to defamatory comments, you have the option to switch off comments.

Social Media with commentary control features:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • TikTok

This situation does not in any way dimmish the impact of social media as an effective communication tool.

The bottom line is that there is no excuse to carry defamatory comments on you social media posts.

“Ignorantia juris non excusat”
Ignorance or mistake about the existence or application
of legislation creating an offence is no excuse.

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