Nats MP slams Facebook over false posts

Matt Coughlan
·2-min read

A federal Nationals MP has excoriated Facebook for taking months to remove defamatory and false accusations she was part of a secret child sex abuse network.

Conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer was in September ordered to pay $875,000 in damages after making untrue claims against Victorian MP Anne Webster, her husband and the couple's charity.

Dr Webster first reported the posts to Facebook in March, but they were not removed until August.

The Mallee MP said she was focused on ensuring other Australians did not suffer similar pain inflicted on her family and organisation.

"It is not OK. Whatever policies are there, from my perspective they're not working and they need to work a whole bunch better," she told a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.

"If we're going to be talking about safety for women, safety for children, I'm not convinced that the system is working."

Facebook's Australian policy director Mia Garlick apologised for Dr Webster's experience, saying she understood how damaging the false accusations were.

But she pointed to the #MeToo movement, which exposed sexual harassment and abuse committed by powerful men, as a reason posts about prominent people were not immediately removed.

"We don't necessarily automatically remove content that accuses a public figure of a crime or any type of potential criminal activity or abuse," Mrs Garlick said.

"We've seen a lot of instances in recent years, say with the #MeToo movement, where there's been a lot of use of social media to share stories."

Facebook eventually geoblocked the posts "out of respect for local law" when it was decided they were defamatory.

Mrs Garlick said there were legal complexities because Facebook had to decide if the user could have relied on a truth defence in court.

Dr Webster accused the social media giant of only taking action once a court determined the company would be in contempt of court if the posts weren't removed.

"I'm concerned that the responsiveness is actually not there," she said.

"If it's not there for me then is it there for people who are abused in domestic relationships or domestic relationships that are over?"

Facebook banned Brewer for multiple breaches of community standards, but she continues to spout other conspiracy theories on her YouTube channel.