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Social Media Giants Face Lawsuits For Defamatory Reviews

Online digital giants Facebook and Google are likely to face further court orders that will force them to identify people behind potentially defamatory statements made on their sites, lawyers say.

But experts also argue the companies aren’t likely to self-regulate or change policies to reveal the identities of their users without court orders.

Last week, a Melbourne dentist who said he was defamed in an anonymous online review convinced a Federal Court judge to order Google to reveal the identity of the disgruntled user.

Dr Matthew Kabbabe said the potentially defamatory reviews, written under the alias ‘CBsm 23’ had cost him significant loss of money.

(Photo by Omar Marques / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

After Google refused to unmask the reviewer, Kabbabe took the case to court and succeeded in getting an order that will now force Google to identify the reviewer to enable Kababbe to launch legal action if he wishes.

The lawyer representing the dentist, Mark Stanarevic, said tech giants were failing to adequately self-regulate their platforms and that his firm, Matrix Legal, is now set to launch a class action against Google on behalf of businesses that have been victim of potentially defamatory reviews.

‘We are arguing there is a duty of care and misleading conduct,’ he told ABC News, adding that the class action would involve a near dozen small businesses and will be launched within four to six weeks.

‘Where Google has clearly failed is, not only are these profiles a breach of Google’s own terms and conditions, but when someone self-reports and says this is not a proper review, they [Google] should not let those reviews remain for months.’

(Photo by Omar Marques / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

He said anonymous profiles could be easily identified by the tech titans if they invested time and effort to reveal malicious or fake reviewers. He hopes the outcome of the possible class action would bring damages for small businesses that have suffered from Google’s failure to act on its duty of care.

‘They [Google] have failed the businesses,’ he said.

This isn’t the first time a digital publisher has been taken to court over defamation – some plaintiffs have already succeeded against reviewers and media companies through the courts.

In early February, Adelaide lawyer Gorden Cheng was awarded $750,000 in a defamation payout against a woman who gave him a bad review on Google.

Cheng told the court he lost around 80 per cent of his clients during the time of the bad review and when he was notified of its existence by a former client in February 2019.

(AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

There was also the successful defamation case made by Dylan Voller that shifted the way local media organisations moderated comments on their Facebook pages.

Voller brought a civil case against Fairfax Media, Nationwide News and Sky News over user comments made in the comment sections of articles posted on their company pages on Facebook between July 2016 and June 2017.

The judge found that the media companies had the capacity to be able to monitor, hide or delete the comments.

ChannelNews has contacted Google and Facebook for comment.

This is a developing story that will be updated as it unfolds.

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

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