‘Some of the strongest powers to tackle online trolls in the world’

29 November 2021 By Reporter
Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash

Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash are set to introduce “world-leading” court powers to combat trolling and reform defamation laws.

‘A coward’s palace’

The federal government will introduce “some of the strongest powers in the world” to tackle anonymous online trolls and hold global social media giants to account, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash announced over the weekend.

The reforms, the pair said in a joint statement, 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, they noted, if those platforms provide information that ensures a victim can identify and commence defamation proceedings against the troll.

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The PM said 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. 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,” he said.

“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. In a free society with free speech, you can’t be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it.”

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Reforming defamation post-Voller

The reforms, the PM and A-G proclaimed, will give victims of defamation two avenues to identify trolls and resolve disputes: new standardised complaints systems for social media platforms to remove defamatory remarks and identify trolls with consent, and the establishment of a new Federal Court requiring those platforms to disclose the identities of trolls so that defamation proceedings can be lodged.

Such reforms, the pair argued, will ensure that Australians and Australian organisations with social media pages are not legally considered publishers and cannot be held liable for any defamatory comments posted on their page.

A-G Cash said that such reforms come in response to the Voller case, in which the High Court made clear that Australians who maintain social media pages can be publishers of defamatory comments made by others on social media, even if the page owner does not know about the comments.

“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, Senator Cash said.

“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. The reforms will make clear that, in defamation law, Australians who operate or maintain a social media page are not ‘publishers’ of comments made by others.

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

“However, if defamatory comments are made in Australia, and social media providers help victims contact the individuals responsible, it is appropriate they have access to a defence.”

The reforms will complement the state and territory reforms currently being undertaken, the A-G added. An exposure draft of the legislation will be released this week.

‘Some of the strongest powers to tackle online trolls in the world’
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