Amid Facebook crash, Australia to update defamation laws

CNN’s main Facebook page displays an error message when viewed from Australia, as shown in this screenshot taken on September 29, 2021. Social media website / via REUTERS

SYDNEY, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – Australia to overhaul defamation laws with new urgency after court ruling that publishers can be held accountable for public comments on online forums like Facebook (FB.O) sent shockwaves through the media industry and beyond.

Since the decision, CNN, which is owned by AT&T Inc (TN), has blocked Australians from its Facebook pages, while the Australian branch of British newspaper The Guardian said it has disabled comments under most articles posted on the platform. form.

The rulers of the state of Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, home to Canberra, also disabled comment sections on their Facebook pages, citing the judgment of the country’s highest court.

Federal Attorney General Michaelia Cash wrote to her eight state and territory counterparts on Wednesday, stressing the importance of an ongoing review of defamation laws.

“I have received considerable feedback from stakeholders regarding the potential implications of the High Court ruling,” said the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

“Although I refrain from commenting on the merits of the court’s decision, it is clear from the reactions of stakeholders … that our work to ensure that defamation law is fit for purpose in the era. digital remains essential. “

The review, which lasted until 2021, posted 36 submissions on its website, including one from Facebook which said it should not be held responsible for defamatory comments because it has relatively little ability to monitor and remove content posted under publishers pages.

The decision was criticized by defamation lawyers accusing Australia of not keeping up with technological developments and noting the contrast with the United States and Britain where the laws largely protect publishers from any fallout from comments posted in line.

State and federal attorneys general will meet to discuss possible changes over the next month, although no timeline has been released on when changes to the law could be submitted to parliament.

While the media were among the first to criticize the High Court ruling, lawyers have warned that all sectors in Australia that rely on social media to interact with the public are potentially responsible.

“The decision has important implications for those who operate online forums … which allow third parties to comment,” said a spokesperson for the Law Council of Australia. “It is not limited to news organizations.”

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr was among those who turned off comments on Facebook pages.

The move was made “out of caution, because her page is not a government account, it’s a personal page,” a spokeswoman told Reuters in an email.

Brendan Nyst, director of the law firm Nyst Legal, which posts regularly on Facebook, said most companies would continue to allow comments because “engagement is the main strength of social media,” but the decision of the High Court “establishes the need for proper oversight.”

Reporting by Byron Kaye and Colin Packham; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Edwina Gibbs

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