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Facebook Comments Can Get Media Firms Sued in Australia

  • September 24, 2021

Still, the wide reach of the Australian decision makes the country an “extreme outlier,” said Daphne Keller, director of the platform regulation program at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.

The most comparable measure, she said, was a 2015 ruling in the European Court of Human Rights that said the owner of an online forum can be liable for harmful comments left there, even before the owner realizes it. But a European court a year later said the ruling applied only to hate speech, not defamation.

“The court held that a rule like this would violate internet users’ fundamental right for freedom of expression,” Ms. Keller said.

While the Australian ruling directly affects only Facebook page administrators in the country, it could have global implications. In 2002, a court ruled that an Australian citizen could sue an American media company for a defamatory article published overseas. At the time, the ruling was characterized as a “devastating blow to free speech online,” potentially obliging publishers to censor themselves. In the United States, legislation was later passed to make such a foreign defamation ruling unenforceable.

But with this new ruling, Australian residents could still go after international media companies with bureaus outside the United States for any comment ever left on their social media pages.

“The concern is that this will make Australia a magnet for international defamation disputes,” Matt Collins, an Australian lawyer and defamation expert, said.

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