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Amid uproar over Facebook, Australia moves to update defamation laws

Australia is moving forward with new urgings to rework its defamation laws after a court ruling that publishers can be held liable for public comments on online forums such as Facebook sent shock waves through the media industry and beyond.

Since the verdict, CNNThe AT&T Inc-owned company has blocked Australians from its Facebook pages, while the Australian arm of the British newspaper Guardian says it has disabled comments at the bottom of most articles posted on the forum.

Leaders in the state of Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, home of Canberra, have also closed comment sections on their Facebook pages, citing the country’s highest court ruling.

Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash wrote to her eight state and regional counterparts on Wednesday, stressing the importance of an ongoing review of defamation laws.

“I have received considerable feedback from stakeholders regarding the possible implications of the High Court’s decision,” the letter, which was seen by Reuters, said. “While I refrain from commenting on the merits of the court’s decision, it is clear from stakeholders’ responses that in the digital age our work remains important to ensure that defamation law is fit for purpose.”

The review, which is running through 2021, has published 36 submissions on its website, including one from Facebook that says it should not be held liable for defamatory comments because it includes content posted under publishers’ pages. has relatively little ability to monitor and remove.

Defamation lawyers accuse Australia of not keeping up with technological change and noting a contrast with the United States and Britain, where laws largely protect publishers from any repercussions from comments posted online.

State and federal attorney generals will meet next month to discuss possible changes, although no timeline has been published as to when the law change could happen in parliament.

While media organizations were among the first to criticize the High Court ruling, lawyers have warned all Australian territories that rely on social media to interact with the public are potentially liable.

“This decision has significant implications for those who operate online forums … which allow third parties to comment,” said a spokesman for the Law Council of Australia. “It’s not limited to news organizations.”

Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr was among those who disabled comments from Facebook pages.

A spokesperson said the move was “taken very carefully, as their page is not a government account, it is a private page”. Reuters in an email.

Brendan Knyst, director of Nyst Legal, a law firm that posts regularly on Facebook, said most businesses would continue to allow comments because “engagement is social media’s primary strength”, but the high court’s ruling “establishes the need for proper monitoring.” does”.

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