Google Is Liable for Content Posted Online, Australian Court Says

An Australian court found search engine giant Google liable for defamatory videos posted on its YouTube platform that targeted a senior politician, a reminder that social media companies could be held responsible in some jurisdictions for what users put online. 

The ruling revives the question of how much culpability technology firms have for defamation conveyed by users on their websites in Australia, one of few Western nations where online platforms have the same legal responsibility as publishers.

Australia is reviewing what legal exposure platforms should have for defamatory posts. A landmark case in 2021, where a newspaper was found liable for defamatory reader comments below an article posted on Facebook, drove global firms to reduce their social media presence in the country.

The judgment showed Google had denied the videos carried defamatory imputations, and said the YouTuber had the right to an honestly held opinion and should be protected by the right to criticise a politician.”They (Google) were advised that those defamatory videos were there, they looked into it, they decided for themselves that they weren’t, and left them up,” said Prof David Rolph, a specialist in media law at the University of Sydney Law School.

The conflict over defamation and liability adds to the already fraught relationship between Google and Australia’s media and regulators. The country has been at the forefront of confronting the dominance of Big Tech in journalism, with a landmark ruling last year forcing Google and Facebook to pay news organizations for using their content, one of the main drivers of traffic to these platforms.

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