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High Court puts muzzle on Facebook trolls

By Nicole Murdoch - posted Thursday, 23 September 2021

There's a need to continue the overhaul of Australia's defamation laws after a High Court ruling found that Australians with Facebook or other social media pages could be held legally liable for defamatory comments posted on their sites, even without their knowledge or permission.

The issue is in the news after the High Court found Facebook page owners, in this case media outlets, are legally responsible for the words of Facebook commenters who comment on Facebook owners' posts.

It effectively means the Court's ruling affects all Facebook page owners who can now be legally held liable for defamation from comments posted on their page.


At our firm we expect Australia's defamation laws will be overhauled to allow a grace period for page owners to remove defamatory comments, as a result of the Court ruling.

The High Court dismissed an appeal by some of Australia's biggest media entities including the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, finding they are the publishers of third-party comments on their Facebook pages.

Former Northern Territory detainee Dylan Voller wants to sue the companies in the New South Wales Supreme Court over alleged defamatory comments posted on their Facebook pages.

However the case had stalled in a dispute over whether the media outlets were the publishers of the material, which is necessary for a defamation ruling.

He launched the defamation action in the New South Wales Supreme Court against big media groups but the case was side-tracked when the question arose about whether the media companies could be deemed to be the publishers of these comments.

The High Court found that, by creating a public Facebook page and posting content, the outlets had facilitated, encouraged and thereby assisted the publication of comments from third-party Facebook users, and they were, therefore, legally responsible as the publishers of those comments.


The ruling is a defamation game changer and a real wakeup to all Australians who have a social media page with comments enabled.

While media coverage of the Court's ruling focused on the Voller matter, it did not widely examine the ramifications for all Facebook users.

The issue is especially relevant in these Covid times with social media aflame with trolls, anti vaxx groups and conspiracy theorists flooding the site with their bile and attracting hostile reactions from the community in ever increasing flame wars that often descend to personal attacks.

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About the Author

Nicole is an intellectual property and patent lawyer and principal at EAGLEGATE Lawyers in Brisbane.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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