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  • Writer's pictureKirra Pendergast

Who is liable for what? Educating Young Minds on Internet Law and Regulation



Understanding the nuances of social media law and regulation is beneficial and essential, especially for young people who are not only its primary users but also future policymakers.


As someone who has monitored internet law and regulation since its inception, I believe we need to teach this to students and keep them updated with changes and progress.

While they operate worldwide, many Social Media companies like Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) and Snap Inc (Snapchat) are headquartered in the U.S., making them primarily subject to those laws. This often results in a mismatch between the platform's regulations and the values or needs of users from other parts of the world.


Freedom of speech on platforms based in the U.S. is protected under laws like Section 230c, something I speak about in every presentation I give. Because of social media misinformation and lack of education, many young Australians believe they have a right to free speech here.....but that is US law. Not ours. Australia does not have a national Bill or Charter of Rights. Australia is the only Western Democracy not to have one.

Section 230(c) is a provision within the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in the U.S. that shields online platforms from being held liable for content posted by their users. It means platforms like Facebook or Snapchat can not be sued over what their users post.


During his presidency, Donald Trump criticized Section 230, claiming it gave tech companies too much power to silence conservative voices. In May 2020, he signed an executive order to limit the protections offered by Section 230, arguing that platforms should not receive immunity if they engage in editorial decisions about user content. The executive order itself did not have the power to change the law. Instead, it directed federal agencies to consider new regulations and encouraged Congress to revisit the law. The executive order faced significant criticism and legal challenges. Many legal experts argued that the order was more symbolic than substantive, as only Congress can make changes to Section 230. Congress has various proposals to amend or revoke Section 230, but no significant changes have been made.


In Australia, the law may hold Facebook page administrators responsible for defamatory comments on their pages. Instead of the Facebook app being targeted, the person managing the page may be sued. This highlights the importance of page administrators being vigilant about the content posted on their pages.

We need to teach these laws to young people as many do not realise that they may be sued for defamation.


In Australia, a child can be sued for defamation.


The practicality and likelihood of such a lawsuit succeeding depend on various factors, including the child's age and understanding. The general principle is that anyone, regardless of age, can be held liable for their defamatory statements if they had the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of their actions.


Australian law does not automatically make parents responsible for tortious acts (like defamation) of their children. However, parents might be held liable if it can be proven that they were negligent in some way that contributed to the defamatory act, such as if they were aware of their child's repeated defamatory behaviour online and did nothing to prevent it.

Our youth need to be kept up to date about law and policy that affects them. They must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to safely and responsibly navigate the online world, especially as we move towards a metaverse.

This way we not only protect them but also empower them to be the agents of positive change in the future.


To book us to speak at your school email wecanhelp@safeonsocial.com


Sources:

  1. Defamation Act 2005 (which varies slightly between states and territories but has a uniform approach to many issues).

  2. The case of Bleyer v. Google Inc [2014] NSWSC 897, where the court acknowledged that even a minor can be a publisher for the purposes of defamation.

  3. General principles of tort law in Australia, which cover issues of capacity and liability.


For specific advice or more detailed information, consulting a legal expert or referring to specific case law and statutes would be necessary.




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