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Australia defamation ruling lays responsibility on media outlets

Media Contact

Abby Butler

Australia’s highest court today made a landmark ruling that media outlets are “publishers” of allegedly defamatory comments posted by third parties on their official Facebook pages.

Drew Margolin

Associate Professor

Drew Margolin, professor of communication at Cornell University, studies the way people communicate online and the role of accountability, credibility and legitimacy within social networks. He says that this recent ruling indicates that some jurisdictions are willing to lay the responsibility of monitoring harmful speech to media platforms themselves — a potentially significant trend in how we view future cases.

Margolin says:

“What this case shows is that the courts, at least in some jurisdictions, are no longer willing to stand by and say that harmful speech must be tolerated just because ‘it’s too complicated’ to figure out who should be responsible.  So they are putting a marker down, saying it's on the platform.

“It's not clear that this is always the right place to put the responsibility, but it can't be worse than putting it nowhere. Similar to the sale of weapons or drugs or alcohol, there can be different ways to balance responsibility depending on local laws and customs, but every place has some way of doing so. We would never throw up our hands with those kinds of things and say that we just have to live with risks because figuring out who is responsible is too tricky.”  

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