Government flexes muscle against online trolls but critics want more

By Jackson Graham

November 29, 2021

trolling-social media
Social media companies could be forced to provide the identity of anonymous trolls. (myboys.me/Adobe)

Social media companies could be forced to provide the identity of people behind anonymous profiles trolling others online, the prime minister says. 

New laws and reforms would ensure platforms like Facebook and Twitter were liable for defamatory content published on the websites. 

But social media companies could avoid liability if the identity of troll users can be revealed; allowing an individual to begin defamation proceedings against them. 

Announcing this proposal to push back against social media giants on Sunday, Morrison said: “We cannot allow social media platforms to provide a shield for anonymous trolls to destroy reputations and lives.”

The victims of defamatory online comments will have two ways to “unmask trolls”, according to the government. 

These include a requirement for social media platforms to have fast and standardised complaints systems for the removal of defamatory material, and trolls identified with their consent. 

The government would also make a new Federal Court order requiring social media giants to disclose identifying details of trolls to victims, without consent, allowing lawyers to file a defamation case. 

A ruling in a defamation case involving Dylan Voller in 2019 found media companies could be regarded as the publishers of comments made on social media, even if the page owner is unaware of the comments. 

Attorney general Michaelia Cash said the proposed reforms complemented defamation reforms currently being progressed in partnership with states and territories, and sat alongside the Government’s commitment to improving online safety.

“Social media providers should bear their fair share of responsibility for defamatory material published on their platforms,” Cash said. “This reflects the current law.”

However, some advocacy groups say the government’s plan doesn’t go far enough, leaving regulation of social media algorithms unaddressed. 

Think tank Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper wants to see more transparency from the social media giants to show how their platforms work.

“The most pressing problem here is not trolls, it is the disproportionate reach of their content enabled by the algorithms of social media companies that prioritise sensational, outrageous and conspiratorial content — the form which defamatory content usually takes,” Cooper said. 

He said online anonymity, while safeguarding trolls, was also a tool used by critics to hold power accountable. 

The government will release the draft legislation in the coming week for states and territories, Australians and industry to have their say on the reforms.


READ MORE:

ABC warns staff against ‘poorly judged’ social media activity
 

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