MEDIA RELEASE – 8 SEPTEMBER 2021
In an historic decision, the High Court today dismissed the appeals of Fairfax, Nationwide News and Australian News Channel, finding that they were rightly held to be responsible as publishers of defamatory third-party comments on their respective Facebook pages.
In July 2017, Dylan Voller commenced proceedings against the three media companies claiming damages for defamation, based on the content of third-party comments on their Facebook pages.
The media companies had posted links to articles about Mr. Voller on their Facebook pages. Some of the comments from the public on those Facebook pages stated that Mr. Voller had committed certain heinous crimes. While it is acknowledged that Mr. Voller has a criminal record for which he has been held to account and served his punishment, he had never committed anything as heinous as the specific matters being alleged in those comments. These comments caused Mr. Voller extreme emotional and mental distress.
The media companies had argued that they were not responsible for the publication of the comments as they had been written by third parties.
Justice Rothman at first instance in the District Court, and the Court of Appeal found that by opening up public Facebook pages and, motivated by commercial imperatives, encouraging the public to comment, they had participated in and were instrumental in bringing about the publication of the defamatory matter. The High Court agreed.
“This is a common-sense decision that accords with longstanding law on the issue of publication”, said Voller’s lawyers, O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.
“It is commonly known that media companies encourage increased engagement on their posts so that their content is seen by a larger audience. This helps in attracting advertising revenue. With this strong commercial imperative driving them there was no doubt that the media companies lent their assistance to the publication of third-party comments. They did everything they could to encourage the same and it is disingenuous of them to say they played no role in publication of the same.”
“This is an historic step forward in achieving 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.”
“Dylan is very happy with the decision. He feels a sense of vindication and also a sense of achievement in that this is a decision that protects us all.”
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