Facebook is making it easier for Australians not to get sued for defamation because of comments made on their posts by giving users the option to control who can comment on their public posts.
On Thursday morning, Facebook announced a handful of changes that it says will give “more control and context in news feed.”
One of these includes allows users to manage who can comment on public posts.
“Now, you can control your commenting audience for a given public post by choosing from a menu of options ranging from anyone who can see the post to only the people and Pages you tag,” Facebook’s product manager Ramya Sethuraman wrote on the company’s blog.
Facebook users will be able to limit commenting to everyone, Facebook friends or just Profiles and Pages that are tagged in the post.
It will be available for both individuals and public figures, creators and brands.
While many people will appreciate this flexibility — particularly those who regularly face abuse online — few will be as happy as Australian publishers who have been begging for a way to turn off Facebook comments.
In Australia, a 2019 landmark decision between Indigenous youth Dylan Voller and a number of Australian news publications found that the companies were responsible for the defamatory comments other users made on their Facebook posts about Voller.
The judgement considered that news publishers were ‘publishing’ the comments and that they had the ability to turn off the comments — something that they, in fact, did not have the ability to do.
Publishers lashed the decision, saying it was illogical.
“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,” a joint statement from News Corp, Nine and Sky said.
The Voller decision meant that Australian publishers, fearing possible lawsuits, have been erring on the side of not sharing articles on Facebook that they considered a risk of invoking other people’s defamatory comments.
Facebook’s introduction of limiting who can make comments will make it easier for Australian news publishers to navigate.