Media Outlets Held Liable for The Comments of Third Parties on Social Media


The New South Wales Supreme Court recently found the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Sky News, The Centralian Advocate and The Bolt Report should all be held liable for defamatory content posted by their readers in the comments on their social media.

The case

The allegations by Dylan Voller, a former Don Dale Youth detainee arose after he was featured in a 2016 ABC Four Corners report exposing poor treatment of detainees in the detention centre. The various publications allowed potentially defamatory comments to be posted about the youth on their social media pages. Even though it was not the publications who made these comments, Voller claimed the media outlets should be liable for posts made by others on their articles. The plaintiff argued this is because the outlets should have been aware there was a significant risk of defamatory observations when posting articles online and the organisations could have monitored or hidden the comments.

The allegedly defamatory comments about Voller included allegations he brutally bashed a Salvation Army officer, beat and raped an elderly woman and had bitten off someone’s ear.

Mr Voller claimed the comments had resulted in hatred, ridicule and contempt and he continues to suffer distress and damage to his reputation.

The judgement

Justice Stephen Rothman of the Supreme Court declared the media outlets liable for the comments, as they could be considered the publishers. Rothman reasoned the outlets provided the forum for publication and encouraged the comments for their own commercial purposes.

The court considered an expert report from a social media and digital marketing agency which stated there should have been more robust and deliberate attempts to monitor comments. The report concluded the occasional monitoring of comments was insufficient, especially considering the sheer size and resources available to the various media outlets.

News Corp has indicated they intend on appealing the decision.

Takeaway message

This case shows media organizations have a duty of care when monitoring their social media accounts. While a reader may not work or have any association with a certain organisation, defamatory comments made by third-parties can cause a defamation case for the news outlet. It is recommended you always be vigilant with the comments you make on social media and do not make allegations you cannot validate. Allegations that cannot be validated may turn into a defamation claim. If you think you may have been defamed online or someone is making a defamation claim against you, you should contact a lawyer.

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