Media companies in Australia have reacted furiously after a New South Wales Supreme Court judge ruled they are responsible for ensuring defamatory comments aren’t made on their Facebook pages.

The ruling, the media companies say, will have a deep impact on the way they are required to manage their presence on the social media giant’s platform.

News Corp Australia said in a statement following the judgement: “This ruling shows how far out of step Australia’s defamation laws are with other English-speaking democracies and highlights the urgent need for change.

“It defies belief that media organisations are held responsible for comments made by other people on social media pages.

“It is ridiculous that the media company is held responsible while Facebook, which gives us no ability to turn off comments on its platform, bears no responsibility at all.”

The judgement by judge Stephen Rothman was made in a pre-trial hearing for a defamation case brought by 22-year-old Dylan Voller, the Guardian reported.

Voller, who was the detainee at the Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory whose treatment brought about a royal commission in 2016, is suing the Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and Centralian Advocate Newspapers, as well as Sky News Australia’s the Bolt Report. His claim of libel, however, does not relate to articles or reports, but to comments made by the public in ten Facebook posts on the companies’ pages.

Prior to the latest ruling, media organisations carried liability for defamatory comments posted on their public pages, but the test for whether a claim would succeed was whether they had been negligent in not removing comments, a far lower legal bar than the new ruling.

The new judgement in effect means companies will be forced to police postings before they are published.

Judge Rothman ruled that as media companies’ use of a public Facebook page “is about their own commercial interests”, they must also “assume the risks” of defamatory comments made by posters.

He recognised that there is no tool within the Facebook platform to allow pre-moderation of whole comments, but companies could in effect enable moderation by setting filters to pick up on commonly used words, like all conjunctions, definite and indefinite articles, and pronouns.

News Corp Australia said it is considering an appeal, and the Sydney Morning Herald would consider its options and “the implications the ruling may have on the industry”.

Sourced from the Guardian; additional content by WARC staff