Social media has revolutionised the way people communicate and interact with each other. While it has undoubtedly brought people closer together, it has also given rise to a range of legal issues.
There has been an increase in issues particularly in the area of defamation law. Social media has had a significant impact on defamation law, with courts grappling with how to apply established legal principles to the rapidly evolving medium of social medium and networking sites.
Defamation is the publication of a false statement that harms a person’s reputation. In Australia, it is a civil wrong that can result in significant damages being awarded to the defamed person.
Traditionally, defamation has been a matter for the print media and broadcasters, who were subject to strict legal regulations. However, social media has blurred the lines between public and private communication and has made it much easier for anyone to publish content that could potentially defame someone.
Who has published the defamatory content?
One of the significant challenges of applying defamation law to social media is determining who is the publisher of defamatory content. In the case of print media, the publisher is typically easy to identify, as it is the newspaper or magazine that printed the defamatory material.
However, with social media, the publisher could be anyone who has shared or re-posted the content. This has led to a range of legal issues, including questions about the liability of social media companies for defamatory content posted on their platforms.
In 2019, the Australian courts handed down a landmark decision in the case of Voller v. Nationwide News Pty Ltd. The case involved a former Northern Territory youth detainee who had sued several media outlets, including Fairfax, News Corp, and Sky News, over comments made on their Facebook pages.
The comments were highly critical of the detainee and had been made by members of the public. The court held that the media companies were liable for third party comments, as they had facilitated their publication by operating the Facebook pages.
This case set a significant precedent for defamation law in Australia, clarifying that media companies could be held responsible for defamatory content on their social media pages, even if the content was posted by third-party users.
The decision highlights the importance of social media platforms implementing appropriate measures to regulate content posted on their platforms.
Moreover, in the case of social media, determining the truth of a statement can be challenging, particularly when it is being shared by multiple users. Defamation involves writing or speaking statements that are false that intend to harm someone’s reputation.
So, can users be held responsible for sharing false information on social media platforms? There are many concepts under this topic that remain unclear. Importantly, further legal reform may be necessary to ensure that the law keeps pace with the rapid evolution of social media.
John Bui is the Principal Solicitor of JB Solicitors – a law firm based in Sydney, Australia. John is a Nationally Accredited family law Mediator and Arbitrator with over 10 years’ experience in family law and commercial litigation.