An important decision was handed down in 2019 by the New South Wales Supreme Court in Voller v Nationwide News Pty Ltd (and others) which is highly relevant to any business which uses social media to promote its activities.
- the matter concerned Dylan Voller, a young man who was featured in an ABC Four Corners story on abuse in youth detention centres
- subsequent articles written about Voller were posted on the public Facebook pages of media companies News Corporation and Fairfax
- Facebook users were allowed to post comments under the articles on Facebook, and Voller successfully pleaded that the users’ comments were defamatory
- the Court held the media companies were the “publishers” of the comments and therefore responsible for any defamatory imputations contained in them even though they were not the authors of the comments
- the Court held the media companies were liable because they knew, or ought to have known, that defamatory comments were being posted, and they did not remove the comments even though they had the power to moderate their public pages by deleting user comments
- a significant factor in the judgment was that the companies used their public Facebook pages for the “commercial purpose” of promoting their businesses
You may ask “what has this got to do with businesses that are not media companies?”
Well the Court’s ruling applies to any “publisher” of content, so a business which advertises itself by posting on Facebook or other social media will be under a duty to monitor any comments made by social media users.
Businesses must ensure that any user comments (as well as any material published by the business) do not defame any person including a public figure, a competitor or an employee of the business.
We strongly recommend businesses actively monitor and moderate comments and posts on their social media accounts as part of their risk management strategies (irrespective of the outcome of any appeal in the Voller decision).