CNN Blocks Australian Access To Facebook Pages After Court Ruling

The ramifications of a far-reaching decision by an Australian court earlier this month is now impacting the online activities of ordinary Australians.

Earlier this month, the High Court in Australia made a controversial ruling, when it made local media companies and publishers liable for the comments found on their Facebook pages.

Australia’s highest court had ruled that the media firms were now responsible for the comments Facebook users posted under their articles. At the time Silicon UK reported that the ruling could likely have widespread consequences for how publishers interact with their Australian readers on social media.

Australian users

On Wednesday it has been reported that American news giant CNN has confirmed it is preventing Australians from accessing its Facebook pages altogether.

CNN said it had taken the decision because of the Australian High Court ruling, as well as the fact that Facebook allegedly refused to help CNN disable comments in the country.

It should be noted that while Facebook does allow publishers to control who can comment on public posts or articles, it does not provide the publisher will the tool to either delete comments en masse. This means deletions have to be carried out post by post by a CNN staffer.

A second point is that Facebook does not have a feature that allows Facebook pages to turn off user comments by market or geography.

This essentially makes it impossible to isolate Australian users on the international CNN Facebook page.

Ruling consequences

CNN is the first major news organisation to pull its Facebook presence in Australia as a result, and this clearly demonstrates the unintended ramifications the Aussie court ruling has triggered.

In Australia itself, the High Court ruling has been slammed by defamation lawyers, who noted the contrast with the United States and the UK, where laws largely protect publishers from any fallout from comments posted online, Reuters reported.

These lawyers reportedly said other global news organisations, especially those that feel they can easily live without an Australian Facebook audience, are likely to follow CNN’s lead.

“This is the first domino to fall,” Michael Bradley, managing partner of Marque Lawyers was quoted as saying.

CNN’s main Facebook page showed an error message when accessed from Australia on Wednesday.

Facebook response

CNN reportedly said Facebook declined a request to help it and other publishers disable public comments in the country following the ruling.

“We are disappointed that Facebook, once again, has failed to ensure its platform is a place for credible journalism and productive dialogue around current events among its users,” a CNN spokeswoman reportedly said in a statement.

A Facebook spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as saying that recent court decisions had shown the need for reform in Australian defamation law and the company looked forward to “greater clarity and certainty in this area.”

“While it’s not our place to provide legal guidance to CNN, we have provided them with the latest information on tools we make available to help publishers manage comments,” the spokesperson reportedly said.

It is fair to say Facebook has an uneasy relationship with Australian authorities.

Both Facebook and Google fiercely resisted the arrival of a new Australian law that forces social media companies to pay Australian publishers for any web links to their news stories.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, even warned the Australian law could make the internet as we know it “unworkable.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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