Are you a troll? Or are you smart?
With changes in technology come changes to the publication and dissemination of information. This raises issues for media organisations which use social media platforms, like Facebook, to publish and promote engagement with its content.
The New South Wales Supreme Court recently handed down judgment in the case of Voller v Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Voller v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd; Voller v Australian News Channel Pty Ltd  NSWSC 766. The Court was asked to consider whether media companies who publish their content on social media are liable for the defamatory comments that are left on their posts by other users.
Have a read of this Sydney Morning Herald article for further details about the case.
The Plaintiff in this matter was a detainee at the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre. His story of mistreatment while detained at the Centre formed part of the Four Corner’s investigative report into the Centre’s treatment of youth in 2016, which sparked the Royal Commission into Youth Detention Centres.
The Defendants in this matter were Australian media companies which posted articles on social media about this case. Many social media users commented on the articles, and some of these comments were allegedly defamatory towards the Plaintiff.
The main issue for the Court to determine was whether or not the Defendants (the media companies) were liable for such defamatory comments, even though the comments were posted by other Facebook users.
In coming to its decision, the Court made a distinction between the operation of a public Facebook page and the operation of a website. The Court found that a public website has no capacity to vet comments or to prevent them from being published. Facebook, on the other hand, is unique in that it allows the administrator account to control comments, or even hide comments pending moderation.
The Court ultimately decided that each media company was the primary publisher in relation to comments posted on the Facebook page they operated. The Court stated:
 …each defendant had the means effectively to delay the publication of the third-party comments and to monitor whether any were defamatory, before releasing them to the general readership.
 Each defendant was not merely a conduit of the comment. It provided the forum for its publication and encouraged, for its own commercial purposes, the publication of comments.
 … I note that the defendant media company has opened and continues to operate a public Facebook page for its own commercial ends. In doing so, it assumes the risks that comments made on that page will render it liable under various laws that may prevent, render unlawful, or render actionable in damages various statements.”
So, what does this judgment mean?
Following this decision, media companies who use social media sites like Facebook will need to ensure that they monitor all comments on their posts, being careful to remove any that are, or may be, defamatory.
However, it is important to note that this is an emerging area of law, one that has been largely untested in Australian courts. It is highly likely that this judgment will be appealed to a higher court.
If you believe that you or someone you know has been defamed on social media, or if you want to learn how not to be a troll, then call Greg Martin or Jacqueline Wainwright on 02 9687 9322.