The High Court has dismissed an appeal by some of Australia's biggest media outlets including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, finding they are the publishers of third-party comments on their Facebook pages.
Former Northern Territory detainee Dylan Voller wants to sue the companies over alleged defamatory comments on their Facebook pages in the New South Wales Supreme Court.
But the case had been stalled by the dispute over whether the outlets were the publishers of the material. The High Court today found that, by running the Facebook pages, the media groups participated in communicating any defamatory material posted by third parties and are therefore responsible for the comments.
Mr Voller's defamation case had been progressing through the courts until questions arose over whether the outlets were considered the publishers of the Facebook comments, which were posted in reply to articles written between July 2016 and June 2017.
The question was sent to the High Court, and at the core of the case was the definition of publishing.
Lawyers for the media groups told the High Court they might have facilitated the process, but they were not the publishers of the material. But lawyers for Mr Voller told the High Court that, under the law, communication of a defamatory comment did not have to be done intentionally.
"Any degree of participation in that process of communication, however minor, makes the participant a publisher," the lawyers' submissions said.
One of the difficulties for the media groups at the time was that Facebook did not allow them to turn off the comments function.