An MP who was awarded part of an $875k defamation payout over conspiracy theories shared on Facebook has demanded the social media giant be held to account.
An MP who was awarded part of an $875k defamation payout over conspiracy theories shared on Facebook has demanded the social media giant be held to account.

Defamed MP wants Facebook held to account

A Victorian MP has slammed Facebook for allowing a conspiracy theorist to spread "awful and vile" claims about her and her support group for disadvantaged young mothers.

Dr Anne Webster, the Nationals MP for Mallee, was awarded $350,000 in damages on Tuesday over defamatory posts which the Federal Court condemned as "disgraceful and inexplicable".

Justice Jacqueline Gleeson said "obsessive and defiant" conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer's posts, accusing Dr Webster of being part of a secretive child abuse network, were "vile" and "delusional".

Zoe Support, Dr Webster's not-for-profit organisation, was awarded $300,000, while her husband Philip Webster - the group's board chair - was awarded $225,000.

The posts began in late April but it took Facebook up to a fortnight to remove them, with further posts made in August after a court injunction.

 

Dr Anne Webster. Picture: Stuart McEvoy
Dr Anne Webster. Picture: Stuart McEvoy

 

Dr Webster told the Herald Sun she was initially "met with silence" when she tried to get Facebook to take down "the worst of the worst lies" about her.

"That is very disempowering for anyone," she said.

"It concerns me greatly that social media platforms are a space where with great speed, communications can spread … It's basically largely unmediated and I think that is hugely problematic."

"Facebook needs to take far more accountability."

Attorney-General Christian Porter last year argued social media platforms needed to be treated the same way as traditional publishers under defamation law, a change backed by Dr Webster.

"For Facebook and other social media platforms, the risk seems to be pretty low," she said.

The first-term MP launched court action because she feared vulnerable young mothers who relied on her charity would not trust it because of the "awful, vile diatribe" that was spreading online.

"I just rose up and thought, I am not putting up with this," she said.

"It's the principle - we have to stand up to these people."

In her judgment, Justice Gleeson also criticised Facebook's role in spreading the defamatory claims.

"Fortunately for the Websters, their long lives of decency and good deeds, coupled with the incoherence of much of Ms Brewer's messages, make it reasonably unlikely that any but the most suggestible individuals would think the less of them as a result of Ms Brewer's publications," she said.

"However, social media has provided Ms Brewer with a platform by which she is able to reach suggestible individuals who may believe her claims … Consistent with her stated aim, Ms Brewer's defamatory publications have spread along the grapevine into the Mildura community."

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tom.minear@news.com.au

Originally published as Defamed MP wants Facebook held to account



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