Media experts’ stark warning to be careful what you post

SOCIAL media has changed the game on how we interact.

It's a platform to share voices, but users need to be careful about what they publish.

That is the warning from Southern Cross University journalism lecturer Jeanti St Clair in the wake of an explosion of social media groups and 'citizen journalism'.

Ms St Clair said digital defamation was on the rise because social media users lacked an understanding of media law.

"Copyright, defamation and contempt law are bound around a set of agreed professional protocols," she said.

"Now anybody has access to the internet but they don't necessarily have the digital literacy to understand the current state of the laws and are getting caught up in defamation cases."

Southern Cross University digital media and communications program lecturer Jeanti St Clair. Photo: Marc Stapleton.
Southern Cross University digital media and communications program lecturer Jeanti St Clair. Photo: Marc Stapleton.

 

Ms St Clair said all it took was one defamatory comment to open yourself up to a legal battle.

"Provided it's (the comment) communicated to one or more people - it doesn't need a large audience to be considered defamatory," she explained.

"If you take on the role as administrator of a Facebook page or a website and have an open comments section, you need to monitor all comments and posts."

Freelance journalist Tania Spiers-Phillips, who also runs the Kingscliff Happenings Facebook group, said community group administrators had to be vigilant and across the latest media and publication laws.

Ms Spiers-Phillips said she treated the Facebook group, which has nearly 23,000 members, as if it was a newspaper.

"I think it's important to read widely of media law and treat it like a newspaper," Ms Spiers-Phillips said.

"You really have to be vigilant with running a community group, it is long hours and it's very intrusive in your family life.

"Make sure your group is on lockdown so posts have to be approved and then you've got to monitor individual comments.

"My recommendation is don't do it."

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In June last year, the NSW Supreme Court found media companies liable for defamatory comments posted by users on their Facebook page in response to news articles.

The Guardian wrote this month the decision had wide-ranging ramifications for media companies in Australia, which are now held responsible for content posted by users on their Facebook pages and posts.

The article said a NSW court had this month dismissed an appeal from several Australian media companies as they had sufficient control over comments to be considered publishers.

In a joint statement, News Corp, Nine and Sky said the court had shown Australian defamation law was "completely out of step with the realities of publishing in the digital age".

"The decision fails to acknowledge that it is Facebook that controls its platform, including that Facebook gives media companies no ability to turn off comments on their pages. It is Facebook that must be held responsible for content posted by its users, not media companies.

"Today's decision means the media cannot share any story via Facebook without fear of being sued for comments which they did not publish and have no control over.

"It also creates the extraordinary situation where every public Facebook page - whether it be held by politicians, businesses or courts - is now liable for third party comments on those pages."


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