Prime Minister Scott Morrison is getting serious in his fight to stamp out online trolls. On Sunday, the PM announced he would be introducing a new law that would force global social media giants to unmask anonymous online trolls.
What does ‘unmask anonymous online trolls’ actually mean? Well, the new powers, that would be given to Australian courts, would force social media companies to hand over the personal information of users who post defamatory comments.
If someone suspects they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on online platforms, a newly established complaint mechanism would require these platforms to take the offending posts down. If a site refuses to remove the material, the court system could order them to fork over details about the user behind the posts.
In a statement, Morrison said the new law and accompanying reforms will be some of the “strongest powers in the world” when it comes to tackling damaging comments from anonymous online trolls and holding global social media giants to account.
The reforms, Morrison continued, will ensure social media companies are considered publishers and can be held liable for defamatory comments posted on their platforms. They can avoid this liability if they provide information that ensures a victim can identify and commence defamation proceedings against the troll, however.
Echoing remarks he has made at-length, the Prime Minister said during a press conference yesterday that “the rules that exist in the real world should exist online too”.
“Social media can too often be a cowards’ palace, where the anonymous can bully, harass and ruin lives without consequence,” he said, referencing a speech he gave during a press conference nearly two months ago.
“We would not accept these faceless attacks in a school, at home, in the office, or on the street. And we must not stand for it online, on our devices and in our homes.
“We cannot allow social media platforms to provide a shield for anonymous trolls to destroy reputations and lives. We cannot allow social media platforms to take no responsibility for the content on their platforms. They cannot enable it, disseminate it, and wash their hands of it. This has to stop.
“These will be some of the strongest powers to tackle online trolls in the world.
“Anonymous trolls are on notice, you will be named and held to account for what you say. Big tech companies are on notice, remove the shield of anonymity or be held to account for what you publish.”
According to Morrison, the reforms will give victims of defamatory online comments two ways to unmask trolls and resolve disputes.
First, global social media platforms will be required to establish a quick, simple and standardised complaints system that ensures defamatory remarks can be removed and trolls identified with their consent.
Second, a new Federal Court order will be established that requires social media giants to disclose identifying details of trolls to victims, without consent, which will then enable a defamation case to be lodged.
The proposed legislation comes in the wake of a ruling from the High Court in September that news publishers can be held liable for the comments readers post on their social media pages.
“Since the High Court’s decision in the Voller case, it is clear that ordinary Australians are at risk of being held legally responsible for defamatory material posted by anonymous online trolls,” Attorney-General Michaelia Cash added.
“This is not fair and it is not right. Australians expect to be held accountable for their own actions, but shouldn’t be made to pay for the actions of others that they cannot control.”
It’s expected the new legislation will enter Parliament sometime this week.