Fairfax Voller – an analysis
Since the first true social media platforms emerged on the world wide web in the late 90s, legislative bodies have sought to control and influence the way social media operates. In the first of many deep dives, we will take a quick look at just how recent legislation has impacted the way we talk about, utilise and advertise on social media.
Fairfax Media Publications v Voller 
Since 2021, you may notice this comment on articles shared by the ABC, The Daily Mail, Channel 7 and other media outlets. Ever wondered why it’s there?
In 2016, Mr Voller appeared in an episode of Four Corners Australia, entitled ‘Australias’ Shame’. The episode provided an insight into the mistreatment and abuse of Indigenious Australian juvenile detainees, with a specific focus on the Don Dale Youth Detention Center. While reports had appeared in the media prior to the episode of Four Corners Australia, this episode amplified the issue of detainee abuse to a much larger scale.
Articles about the abuse, composed and shared on social media by media company Fairfax Media Publications, started to appear in late 2016, and 2017. Subsequent comments made by social media users in the articles comment section on social media (notably Facebook), were highlighted as defamatory by Mr Voller and his legal team.
The courts agreed with Mr Voller and his legal team, and noted that defamatory comments (such as the ones highlighted in this case) are the sole responsibility of the account holders who shared the initial articles.
As noted by the Attorney General: “…The Voller decision shows that Australians who maintain a social media page may be exposed to defamation liability for defamatory posts that others make on their page – even if they are not aware of the posts…”
Since this decision, many large scale media outlets have opted to instead allow for a ‘no comments’ approach when community management resources (or moderators) are not available (which often coincides with the standard working hours of 9 AM – 5 PM). This approach has been criticised by some who see it as having an impact on freedom of expression, while others have welcomed the change.
Locally, a Facebook group in Lennox Head also experienced something quite similar – users were using the group to defame local businesses. SP Garrett advised the moderator that they would be personally liable for the defamatory comments, and – as the volume of posts was quite high they had no choice but to close the page.