Aussie Judge Orders Social Media Content Removed for Murder Case
Some of social media’s most positive features, including the ease of and ubiquity of online commenting, may make it an obstacle to the judicial process, according to the Australian judge in charge of a high-profile murder trial.
Felicity Broughton, the deputy chief magistrate for Australia’s State of Victoria, ordered Facebook and Twitter to remove a variety of user-generated content which she deemed potentially prejudicial to the trial of one Adrian Ernest Bayley, who is accused of raping and murdering Jill Meagher, a young woman from Ireland, in Melbourne in late September.
Broughton made the decision in response to the defense attorneys for Bayley, who argued that the angry commentary on social media sites would make it difficult to assemble an impartial jury to hear Bayley’s case.
Although skeptics point out it will be impossible to remove all prejudicial content from the Web, Broughton said that Facebook and Twitter should be able to exert enough central control over their properties to remove the content; however it remains to be seen whether the U.S.-based companies, which have minimal staffing in Australia, will respond to the order. Several weeks ago Australian attorneys general met with Facebook to urge the company to take down the inappropriate comments, but Broughton’s new order suggests that the social network still hasn’t complied.
As noted in previous posts, this isn’t the first time Facebook has clashed with the Australian government over free speech. In August I wrote about the controversy created by a Facebook page inciting racial hatred against aborigines, which prompted Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to demand that the page be removed for violating Australia’s laws against racial discrimination. The opposition Liberal Party also encouraged Parliament to consider further legislation that would empower the government to compel social networks to immediately remove illegal content. The extra powers may be necessary, according to one supporter, because, as the controversy illustrated, “It is clear that regulating social media providers using traditional approaches is difficult because their senior management and ownership is normally in other countries.”