National

FB, Google ‘not responsible for comments’

By AAP Newswire

Social media companies and search engines shouldn't be held responsible for what people say on their platforms, Victoria's Law Reform Commission says.

The commission is calling for an overhaul of contempt-of-court laws to make them fairer and clearer and to bring them in line with the 21st century.

It's unfair to expect "online intermediaries", such as Google and Facebook, to check material does not breach the law when published, the commission said.

"The person who publishes the material should be punished, not the provider who makes the publication possible," said its report, tabled in state parliament on Tuesday.

To do otherwise would "stifle freedom of expression and impose an unfair burden".

"This is true even though they (intermediaries) may select, evaluate and rank content," the commission said.

"While they are more than passive conduits, their responsibility is different."

But tech and social media giants should be required to comply with court orders, the commission added.

"The position is different if a court determines the material should not be published or should be taken down, and if the online intermediary is given notice and enough time to comply."

News outlets being sued for defamation by ex-Northern Territory youth detainee Dylan Voller have lost an appeal against a ruling which found them liable for third-party comments made on their Facebook pages.

Mr Voller is suing the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Centralian Advocate, Sky News Australia and The Bolt Report.

The NSW Court of Appeal in June dismissed the media companies' appeal, upholding a previous ruling that they were publishers of the third-party posts on their Facebook pages.

The news outlets are considering a High Court challenge.

Australia-wide defamation laws and publication responsibility are being reviewed at a federal level.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission's comments coincide with its calls for other sweeping changes to contempt of court definition and regulation.

Someone is guilty of contempt if they're found to have interfered with the administration of justice. This isn't regulated by parliament but the Supreme Court, based on precedents set by other cases.

The commission wants Victorian MPs to define specific behaviour that can be classified as contempt to make the law fairer.

"A person should be able to understand the language of the law of contempt of court. This is not the case today," it said.