The new laws that will unmask anonymous online trolls

According to an article by Mumbrella, the Australian government will soon be introducing some of the toughest ‘anti-troll’ legislation in the world.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the legislation will target anonymous ‘online trolls’ and strengthen defamation laws, with the draft legislation to be released during the week. These laws will make social media companies reveal the identities of anonymous trolls, with options to sue them for defamation.

Under the new laws, social media companies will need to collect the personal information of current and new users. They will also have to allow courts to access the identities of users to launch defamation cases. And while it’s unclear what particular data will be collected, there are indications it could be a phone number, email address and the user’s contact name.

Importantly for publishers, the legislation will also reverse the High Court of Australia’s decision that recently found the social media pages of news outlets were the publishers of the comments made, meaning they could have potentially been liable for defamatory comments left 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 said in a media statement.

“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.”

And while Cash agreed that social media providers should bear their fair share of responsibility for defamatory material published on their platforms to reflect the current law, she said that “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.”

Other changes that the bill seeks to make include requiring social media platforms to establish a 'standardised complaints system' and a new Federal Court Order that will enable users who feel attacked to request the identity of anonymous perpetrators.

“We cannot allow social media platforms to provide a shield for anonymous trolls to destroy reputations and lives,” Scott Morrison said. “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.”