Australian Prime Minister proposes defamation laws forcing social platforms to expose trolls

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is introducing new defamation laws that would require online platforms to reveal the identity of trolls or pay the price of defamation. As ABC News Australia explains, the laws would hold social platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, accountable for defamatory comments made against users.

The platforms will also need to create a complaints system that people can use if they feel they are being defamed. As part of this process, the person who posted the potentially libelous content will be asked to remove it. But if he refuses, or if the victim wishes to take legal action, the platform can then legally ask the author of the advertisement for permission to reveal his contact details.

What if the platform cannot get the poster to be approved? The laws would introduce an “end-user information disclosure order,” giving tech giants the ability to reveal a user’s identity without permission. If the platforms cannot identify the troll for some reason – or if the platforms flatly refuse – the company will have to pay for the troll’s defamatory comments. As the law is specific to Australia, it appears that social networks would not have to identify trolls located in other countries.

“The online world shouldn’t be a Wild West where robots, fanatics, trolls and others circulate anonymously and can harm people,” Morrison said at a press conference. “This is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no way it can happen in the digital world.”

As noted by ABC News Australia, an “anti-troll” bill is expected this week, and it will likely not reach parliament until early next year. It is still unclear what specific details the platforms would be asked to collect and disclose. More worryingly, we still don’t know how serious the libel case would have to be to warrant revealing someone’s identity. A vague definition of defamation could pose serious threats to privacy.

The bill is part of a larger effort to revise Australian libel laws. In September, the High Court of Australia ruled that news sites are considered “publishers” of defamatory comments made by the public on their social media pages, and should be held accountable. This caused selling points like CNN to block Australians from accessing their Facebook page absolutely. However, the ruling potentially has implications for people who manage social pages, as the ruling implies that they can also be held liable for any defamatory comments left on their pages.

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