CNN has scrapped its Facebook presence in Australia after the country’s High Court ruled this month that publishers can be liable for defamation in public comment sections beneath news reports.
The move makes CNN the first major news organisation to pull its Facebook presence in Australia – and analysts say it is unlikely to be the last.
The US news channel is not a major source of news Down Under but the decision could reverberate across the sector if other outlets follow suit.
Communications law expert Brett Walker, from the Australian National University, said the decision had broad consequences.
“Any organisation which administers a social media account could also be liable for defamation on the same basis — for example, businesses, sporting clubs and community groups,” he told the ABC.
Peter Lewis, director of think tank Centre for Responsible Technology, says a number of news organisations are looking at switching off comments on their stories posted on Facebook due to the legal risk.
“The publishers I think have come to the conclusion that running community content through Facebook, if they are actually responsible for it, actually undermines one of the reasons they pushed it onto that platform in the first place, which was that it was obviously cheaper and easier than employing their own moderators.”
FACEBOOK ‘WOULDN’T HELP’
CNN said that Facebook declined a request to help it and other publishers disable public comments in the country following the ruling, which was made during the course of an ongoing defamation lawsuit.
A Facebook spokesperson said recent court decisions had shown the need for reform in Australian defamation law and the company looked forward to “greater clarity and certainty in this area.”
Lewis says CNN may be the first, but won’t be the last to pull out.
“There’ll be more of this, we’ve had this major disruption in the way that we share communication and make sense of the world and Facebook is the big beneficiary in terms of the money made out of that shift. The fact is there needs to be a reckoning and I think we’re living in it at the moment.”
• Jim Pollard with Reuters