Australia’s Upside-Down Internet Liability Policy Shows How Section 230 Enables Greater Freedom of Speech

from the-nether-country-has-inverted-laws department

It’s no secret to long-time readers of Techdirt that Australia is really upside down when it comes to internet laws and policies. We’ve discussed things like the news link tax in Australia in the past (they hate it when you call it a tax, and insist that it’s just a “bargaining code”, but bargaining is forcing internet companies to pay for news links, so it’s a tax), and its laws that can force companies to crack their encryption. Or what about their plans to ban anonymity? But what was most surprising was their completely upside-down view of the liability of intermediaries. In Australia, not only can you sue intermediaries for someone else’s speech, but the courts regularly happily accept absolutely ridiculous claims against those intermediaries.

The latest in a long list of cases sadly is that an Australian court has ordered Google to pay former New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro (who is currently going through a job controversy ), because someone uploaded a YouTube video attacking Barilaro. In a normal system – that is, like under US Section 230 rules – Barilaro would have every right to go after the guy who created the videos, a comedian named Jordan Shanks, but Google has no responsibility because how the hell should they filter every uploaded video? Shanks actually settled with Barilaro last year, so the case only continued against Google.

As in previous similar cases, Australian judges appeared to have no problem blaming Google for any content posted on a Google-owned site, even if it was not created or viewed by anyone at Google.

On Monday, Federal Court Judge Stephen Rares ruled that Barilaro had been “traumatized” by a “relentless cyberbullying” campaign by comedian Jordan Shanks, who uses the pen name Friendlyjordies.

Rares ruled that Google failed to follow its own policies by doing “nothing to prevent hate speech, cyberbullying and harassment of Mr. Shanks” from Barilaro.

The judge ordered Google to pay $715,000 in total, a figure that could rise if a costs order is issued against the tech company.

Apparently, the judge is also planning to sue Google for exerting “inappropriate pressure” on Barilaro…by leaving the videos online. In other words, if a judge simply disagrees with a content moderation ruling, that can be considered an aggravating factor. It’s ridiculous.

The videos, and Google’s decision to leave them online, amounted to what the judge called “inappropriate pressure” on Barilaro during the case.

“The daunting aim of the coup served its purpose,” Rares concluded, pointing to evidence Barilaro gave at trial that he had at one point asked his lawyers to settle the case because “hell went on “.

As Reason’s Matthew Hughes points out that while the videos made by Shanks may have been crude, they clearly would have been considered protected speech elsewhere, and notes that Shanks’ YouTube channel has a history of journalism. significant investigation of government-related matters. misconduct, including police misconduct and government corruption.

In other words, a lot of it certainly looks like retaliation against a vocal reviewer – while cashing in through Google, and making it much less likely that Google/YouTube will host their videos, or other reviewers’ videos there. future to avoid liability risk.

In other words: laws that specify that intermediaries cannot be held responsible for the speech of third parties protect speech and supports freedom of expression.

Hughes’ article goes on to note other ways Australia’s lack of 230 is now stifling discourse, talking about the case we covered last year, making Facebook users responsible for comments under their publications. Shortly after, we noticed that CNN was removing the comments from one of its posts in Australia, not because they didn’t want the comments, but because the risk of liability was too great.

As Hughes explains, this resulted in increased speech suppression:

The decision even prompted some politicians to re-evaluate their social media presence. Peter Gutwein, who ruled Tasmania until April this year, put his Facebook profile on read-only mode, cutting off a potential communication channel for voters.

Announcing the change, Gutwein said: “Facebook’s recent defamation ruling by the High Court determined that the page owner is now legally responsible for user comments on posts. We know that social media is 24/7 media, but our moderation capabilities are not.

Dan Andrews, the head of Victoria, has suggested he might follow suit, although that has yet to happen.

And now John Barilaro – a man who was once the second most prominent politician in Australia’s most populous state – has suppressed criticism of an independent media operation and, in the process, likely made internet companies less willing to help these operations reach an audience in Australia.

Again, that’s why we’ve been pointing out for over two decades now that section 230 allow more speech and removal of Section 230 laws (or equivalent) leads to speech suppression. It is bizarre beyond belief that people still seem to believe that Section 230 is against free speech. Section 230 is one of the most amazing tools supporting free speech that we have ever seen, because it has opened up so many different places on the internet for people to express themselves.

Filed Under: australia, censorship, freedom of speech, liability of intermediaries, internet, john barlaro, section 230

Companies: google

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