News Sites’ Social Media Comments Under Scrutiny After Australian Ruling

Businesses worldwide should be sitting up and taking notice of a case in Australia that has created huge implications for any firm using social media and which outlines the need for corporate entities to buy relevant and robust insurance, which will protect the bank balance.

The case related to how media publications use their Facebook pages, along with other social media channels, to grow their offline readership and online presence. By eliciting social media interest around stories, which have to be viewed via a web link contained in the social media post, the publication can benefit from higher traffic to its website.

The increase in digital-only publications continues to be a trend. In the UK, ‘the thinking woman’s magazine’, Marie Claire, has called time on 31 years on newsagents’ shelves, by becoming a purely digital title. Yet, the world is still to find a digital news site that is attracting the same level of advertising revenue that was traditionally spent offline.

Encouraging comments on social media, about a story that can be viewed via a link to the publication’s digital news platform, has been traditionally regarded as a sound strategy and one that boosts page views on the website. High traffic is the advertising sales team’s ally, as advertisers note and respond to this, by choosing to spend on paid online advertising.

But, following a story concerning a former youth detention detainee, made ‘famous’ by a TV programme in Australia, several media titles have paid the price for encouraging negative social media reactions and comments on Facebook. The Australian, SKY News, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bolt Report and the Centralian Advocate, allowed defamatory comments about the youth to remain visible and unmonitored, despite these including allegations of rape and malicious wounding.

Following legal action by the youth, a court made a groundbreaking ruling that the blame for the defamation of the third-party Facebook commentators lay at the door of the media houses that had stoked the fire. The judge regarded the titles as the primary publishers of the defamatory social media comments.

The judge also took note of the fact that ‘The Australian’ generates 39% of its monthly visitors to its website, and 53% of its unique visitors, from its Facebook posts. He concluded that the titles had excited the interest of Facebook readers to boost the number of subscribers to their digital media titles and enhance their papers’ and websites’ profiles.

Once UK lawyers learn of this landmark Australian case, we shall probably see Facebook and other social media platforms coming under the spotlight, as claims companies conduct forensic examinations of follower comments, to assess if there is any defamatory content that could spark a legal action. Legally, this case has created a new relationship between the social media platforms run by publishing entities and their digital websites. And it may not be just media publishers who need to take note. Any business benefiting in a similar way from opinions that drive traffic to their websites, could be in trouble, if they are seen to encourage, and benefit from, defamatory comments.

An insurance broker can help you to get the right protections in place, to defend any such actions, should the need occur, although being careful about what you post and assessing whether or not you leverage benefit from controversial posts is a wise risk management move, to try to minimise exposure. If you require help with legal insurance covers, or any other commercial insurances, please get in touch.