Australian Attorney General Wants To Make The Country's Defamation Law Even Worse
from the if-it's-already-broke-just-keep-breaking-it dept
Australia’s government is planning to revamp its defamation law. Good. Because it’s all kinds of fucked up. The law that’s in place has encouraged all sorts of litigation from people who would prefer to sue service providers and social media platforms, rather than the people who actually said defamatory things.
But it’s unclear what sort of reform the government actually has in mind. Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter says the country’s defamation law is “unfair.” It’s certainly not a good law, but Porter thinks it doesn’t strike a “perfect balance” between protecting journalists from being hit with bogus lawsuits and protecting individuals from being defamed.
Attorney-General Christian Porter says social media platforms should be treated the same as traditional publishers under defamation law, a change that would present a fundamental new challenge for global companies such as Facebook and Twitter.
It appears Porter believes the playing field can only be leveled by dragging social media platforms down to the level of local journalists the law fails to protect. This is Porter’s idea of “fairness,” apparently. If the law is going to continue to suck, it should suck for more people.
Despite the fact that social media platforms don’t actually “publish” anything, Porter wants to treat Facebook, et al like newspapers. In Porter’s mind, anything posted by users apparently should be vetted and fact-checked and edited by social media platforms before it goes live. You know, like a newspaper.
Of course, this is impossible and Porter knows it. So, “reforming” the law just means making it easier for bad faith litigation to proceed, allowing actual defamers to escape punishment while judgments and fees are extracted from American social media companies. Porter is pretty sure this is the right thing to do, even as he admits he has no idea if it even can be done.
“My own view … is that online platforms, so far as reasonably possible, should be held to essentially the same standards as other publishers,” Mr Porter told an audience at the National Press Club.
“But you have to, of course, take into account, reasonable, sensible measures for how you do that … because of the volume of what goes on in Twitter and Facebook is much larger than the volume from a standard newspaper.”
Saying that “the volume of what goes on in Twitter and Facebook is much larger than that the volume from a standard newspaper” is such an understatement as to suggest that Porter has absolutely no familiarity with the issue at hand. Comparing the two is like saying the volume of Niagra Falls is larger than a leaky sink. Yes, they both involve water moving downward, but that’s about the extent of the comparison. Saying that the volume from one is “much larger” than the other leaves out just how much larger. Indeed, it’s so much larger that there literally is no reasonable comparison. Yet, he chose to make it anyway.
The AG’s defamation law “fix” appears to be a response to a NSW Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year — one that held Australian press outlets legally responsible for defamatory comments made by readers on the outlets’ Facebook pages. But rather than improve the law to protect press outlets, AG Porter just wants to make it worse for social media companies.
How this is supposed to fix anything is anyone’s guess. Maybe the Attorney General feels the country’s court system just isn’t seeing enough bogus litigation. Whatever the case, this reform effort by the Australian government appears poised to make things worse for Australians and everyone who provides a platform for them.