Attorney-General Christian Porter says a defamation law review will look at how online platforms could be held responsible for harmful content.
Attorney-General Christian Porter says a defamation law review will look at how online platforms could be held responsible for harmful content.

Social networks in legal shake-up and it could impact you

Social media giants should be forced to take more responsibility for damaging content hosted on their platforms, according to Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, who argued "the playing field is not at all fair at the moment".

Mr Porter made the comments in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra today, discussing a long-awaited national review of Australia's defamation laws.

A national review of defamation laws is currently underway, with changes that could be implemented as soon as mid-2020.

And Mr Porter said reform was "very necessary" as the laws did not "strike the perfect balance between public interest journalism and protecting individuals from reputational harm," and did not adequately address defamation issues on social media.

Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said social media giants should be forced to take more responsibility for damaging content hosted on their platforms. Picture: AAP
Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said social media giants should be forced to take more responsibility for damaging content hosted on their platforms. Picture: AAP

His announcement comes weeks after a group of Australian media companies launched the Your Right to Know campaign, calling for changes to defamation law, as well as greater protections for public sector whistleblowers and the right to contest search warrants on newsrooms.

Mr Porter told the National Press Club that the Federal Government was committed to overhauling defamation laws, and he would argue the case at a meeting with state attorneys-general on November 29, along with a second tier of reforms targeting social media companies.

Mr Porter said further reforms were needed to work out "how to treat online platforms as publishers" in Australia so they could be held accountable for publishing damaging, harmful comments on their networks.

"My own view is that these online platforms should be held to essentially the same standards as other publishers but that how this should occur requires a sensible measured approach to reform taking into account the differences in the volume of material hosted between Twitter or Facebook and a traditional newspaper for instance," he said.

 

Mr Porter said the need for urgent reform became clear after the case of former youth detainee Dylan Voller earlier this year, in which a judge ruled that Facebook was not considered the "publisher" of third-party comments on the Facebook pages of media organisations.

"After the very curious decision in Voller versus Nationwide News and Ors which held that the respective media companies - not Facebook - were, for the purposes of defamation law, the 'publishers' of third-party comments posted to their public Facebook pages, it is clear that to have a level playing field between online publishers such as Facebook and Twitter and traditional media publishers reform in this area is very necessary."

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The decision sparked widespread condemnation, and criticism that Facebook did not provide enough moderation tools or the ability to shut down comments on posts to its network.

Mr Porter said other areas for potential defamation reforms included the introduction of a "serious harm threshold" and adding "responsible communication on matter(s) of public interest".