Publish and be damned

This might be nothing or it might be quite significant. I’ll defer to our regular legal expert for the definitive opinion in the comments.

A defamation case has just concluded in Australia where the judge found in favour of the plaintiff’s claim that Creepbook page owners are liable for comments made under their content.

There is a very lengthy but highly-informative Twitter thread here with a detailed breakdown of why Creepbook page owners are simply unable to comply with the ruling. In summary, the tools aren’t made available to control the content and it is currently impossible to switch off comments…. wait for it… unless you are a pharmaceutical company.

No, really….. go to the bottom of that Twitter thread to find that gem and shake your head.

The ruling seems to hold a page “owner” liable for anything anyone posts in reply. Unfortunately, Creepbook doesn’t provide the ability to disable comments on pages (“groups” have this function though) and the keyword blocking function is far from watertight.

There’s much debate currently in the USA about whether the social media giants have become the de facto “public square” and therefore should be subject to the First Amendment or they are publishers curating content and therefore have liability for anything which breaks a law or incurs libel cases.

The general position of the tech companies is that they are common carriers like the postal system or a phone company. Except there’s a major inconsistency with their actions; the phone company doesn’t cut you off if you say something it disagrees with.

Somewhere between these three positions the US courts will eventually rule. Many other commentators have written and spoken extensively on this dichotomy and have speculated on how it might land. My voice isn’t going add much either way.

In the meantime, it looks like an Australian judge may have hurried things along a little.

Bill’s Opinion

It might be argued this ruling has restricted free speech in Australia. However, regular readers will likely concur that ship sailed from Australian shores a long time ago.

My personal position is one of free speech near absolutism; with the exception of calling for violence, I’m generally ok with people saying whatever the hell they want.

That’s not to say they can say it without consequence, public opinion and libel laws are useful moderators.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean the right to an audience though. If social media giants “de-platform” voices they dislike, that’s fine. Those voices will find a way to be heard, particularly if what they are saying resonates with others as being virtuous and true. We should have faith in our fellow humans in being able to discern mendacity from honesty.

This Australian case might result in changes to Creepbook globally, it might result in changes only to the way Australian companies engage on Creepbook, or it might result in very little change at all. Anyone who claims to know is deluding themselves and you.

Creepbook and its page owners might be liable for what’s written by others or they can remove opinions they dislike. I don’t care either way, I’m not on Creepbook so was unlikely to read it anyway.

Yet somehow I manage to keep myself informed of a diverse range of opinions. It’s almost as if, I dunno, there’s an entire world outside of Creepbook.

9 Replies to “Publish and be damned”

  1. Yes there’s been much digital ink spilled on the subject, but thank you for being one of the very few who acknowledge that FB is not a monopoly.

    It pains me to see my fellow travelers on Team Sanity voluntarily give FB/Twitter/Google more and more power by refusing to use their competitors or substitutes, then demanding the state punish these Silicon Valley twats on grounds that they are monopolies that have so much damned power.

    The publisher vs platform argument holds water since the protections granted by gov’t to a platform prevent me from exercising my liberty by suing them. Those protections come with conditions, much like incorporation providing privileges in exchange for transparency etc. But to constantly feed the beast then complain how large it has become is yet another reminder of why we can’t have nice things.

    1. The loudest people on this, understandably, are those with the most to lose and who feel deceived. If you have spent the last half a decade building up a revenue stream on a platform, having it closed arbitrarily would hurt.

      But other businesses diversify to protect against that possibility. If your entire business model requires the Papal patronage of Zuckerberg, consider the possibility you may not be as clever as you might hope.

  2. As far as I can see, the NSW supreme court ruling applied only to the Facebook page of media organisations.
    Specifically to comments posted below a news (cough) article they post.

    So anybody who is not a newsmedia organisation has nothing to worry about. Nothing at all. For it would be mission creep to the nth degree for lawyers & other wankers to stretch that ruling out to mean anybody’s Facebook page. That wouldn’t ever happen. No siree.

    So for the time being the rest of us are safe, coz a “mission creep” extension will require a test case stronger than Kim commenting “you’re a bitch” on Kath’s personal Facebook page.

          1. Can’t put my hand on it right now, but I used to keep handy a report, with excellent graph, put out by some group or other, about the ability to embark upon litigation, suing any bastard coz nothing is your fault, not even a sore toe, and the general dickheadsmanship of the law toward liability by employers, or anybody who could be held to account whatsoever.

            Top of the rankings was USA (collectively)
            Number #2 spot was NSW.
            The list included only countries that had a robust & to outward appearances just & fair judicial system.
            I forget the rest of the rankings, but I do recall way down the list toward the bottom was Ireland.

          2. From memory the report pre-dated the fall of Ireland into complete dickheadsmanship, which sorta woulda arrived around 2000.
            Like most reports, it would have used data that was a few years old.

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