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Media companies scramble after judge rules they are liable for Facebook comments

Major media companies and Facebook are scrambling to come to grips with a landmark ruling by an Australian judge that found publishers are legally responsible for pre-moderating comments on the social media site.

On Monday in the New South Wales supreme court judge Stephen Rothman found that commercial entities, including media companies, could be regarded as the publishers of comments made on Facebook, and as such had a responsibility to ensure defamatory remarks were not posted in the first place.

The judgment has potentially profound impacts on the way news organisations in Australia interact with the social media giant, and prompted immediate backlash from the country’s largest media companies.

“This ruling shows how far out of step Australia’s defamation laws are with other English-speaking democracies and highlights the urgent need for change,” News Corp Australia said in a statement following the ruling.

“It defies belief that media organisations are held responsible for comments made by other people on social media pages.

“It is ridiculous that the media company is held responsible while Facebook, which gives us no ability to turn off comments on its platform, bears no responsibility at all.”