CNN Blocks Its Facebook Pages in Australia After Court Ruling on Comment Board Liability

Report from the Wall Street Journal

In Brief – CNN has blocked access by Australians to its Facebook pages following a recent ruling by Australia’s highest court that media businesses are legally liable for defamatory comments posted by users on the comment boards on the media company’s Facebook pages. The court ruled that user comments posted on news media social media pages are legally equivalent to traditional Letters to the Editor, forums where the media enterprise can exercise editorial control and therefore can be held responsible for defamation as the comment publisher. CNN reported that it asked Facebook to provide a tool for media sites to close comments across the board on their pages when viewed from Australia, but claims the request was rejected by Facebook, who directed the company to utilize existing tools to turn off comments story-by-story. While CNN criticized Facebook for again rejecting sincere cooperation with news media and claimed shutting down comments story-by-story was too difficult to pursue, Facebook stated it supported reform of the Australian defamation laws, journalism in Australia, including through its Facebook News service, and that existing tools can address CNN’s concerns.

Context – In the wake of Facebook’s controversial decision earlier this year to shut off all news media content in Australia in the midst of negotiations over highly contentious legislation to force it (and Google) to pay licensing fees to Australian media businesses whenever their content appears on Facebook, a decision unwound following changes to the News Media Bargaining Code, everything touching on Facebook and media in Australia is news. However, while the specific legal case regarding liability for comments was about news media Facebook pages, many argue that this ruling will soon extend to all Australian web sites with comments, leading to a drastic reduction of user speech. Liability protection for online platforms, including news media sites, to allow users to post comments has been a justification for Sec. 230 in the US.

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