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Home | Blog | Facebook page owners can be liable for third party comments

This is a New Zealand case concerning whether the owner of a Facebook page is liable for defamatory comments made by third parties on the page’s posts.

Who is liable?

The case concerned a Facebook page called “Boycott the Macsyna King book”. The book in question concerned a woman named Macsyna King, who had been falsely accused by media outlets of killing her twin children.

The Facebook page made several posts about the book. A number of third party Facebook users commented on the posts with defamatory statements about the author of the book, journalist Ian Wishart.

The owner of the page, Mr Murray, failed to remove some of the comments even after he obtained knowledge of their existence and became aware of their defamatory nature.

The Court found that Facebook page owners are not “passive instruments or mere conduits of content posted on their Facebook page”.

The Court determined that Facebook page owners would not automatically be liable for any defamatory third party comments made on the page’s posts, but if they know of the defamatory statement (for example, by being given notice that the statement exists) and they fail to remove it or disable access to it within a reasonable time then they will be liable for the comments.

Importantly, Mr Murray raised the fact that the “auto update” feature on Facebook pages means that third party comments are constantly added and become difficult for Facebook page owners to locate and remove on high traffic pages.

However, the Court rejected this line of argument. This merely makes locating and removing defamatory comments on Facebook pages a slower and more laborious process. It does not mean that a Facebook page owner can be absolved of responsibility to edit Facebook posts on their page.

The case only applies to New Zealand. However, it makes interesting reading and could indicate the direction in which the law may head in Australia.

You can read the full judgement of this case here.

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