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3 September, 2021

Avoiding expensive court cases by having better designed ‘safe’ social media platforms

WHILE the eSafety Commissioner makes it clear that legislation around cyber bullying and abuse as well as the agency itself are not designed to tackle potentially expensive defamation cases resulting from social media posts or similar, the agency’s role in removing harmful content may well reduce such actions in future.

By David Gardiner

One case - a defamation action now in its second week in the Cairns Supreme Court, is likely to end up costing parties at the very least hundreds of thousands of dollars, whichever way it goes.

The case centres on alleged social media bullying and defamation by former MP and current Cairns Regional Council councillor Rob Pyne and Tablelands resident Lyn Elizabeth O’Connor.

LGAQ Chief Executive Greg Hallam has filed for $2.5 million defamation damages relating to a series of Facebook posts by both Mr Pyne and Ms O’Connor likening Mr Hallem to Star Wars gangster Jabba the Hutt. The case is seen as a landmark social media defamation case.

The defamation goes beyond the posting of a meme, the defamation also covers comments allegedly posted on Facebook by Ms O’Connor where she accused the LGAQ of corruption and being a boys’ club protecting their own.

After more than 10 days in court and untold expenses linked to this case, there is no outcome as yet.

The government agency eSafety’s view is that defamation law is separate from its purpose of harm minimisation online. But it is putting emphasis on more responsibility needing to be put back on the technology platforms themselves. 

“At eSafety, we strongly believe the answer lies in something we call Safety by Design,” Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said.  “We’ve spent the past three years working with big tech to lead them down a path that will fundamentally change how they design, develop, and deploy their products, with safety at the core.”


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