Australian's proposed anti-troll laws would require social media platforms to disclose personal user details for defamation lawsuits

The federal government is looking to remove anonymity for trolls on social media platforms.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

The Australian government will look to introduce laws that force social media platforms to "unmask" online trolls despite experts saying it will do little to reduce online abuse.

The yet-to-be-unveiled Bill seeks to compel social media platforms into collecting the personal details of current and new users, and allow the Federal Court to access the identity of "trolls to victims" to allow defamation cases to be launched.

Under the legislation, the proposed laws would also make it mandatory for social media platforms to have a standardised complaints system that allows defamatory remarks to be removed and trolls identified with their consent.

"Digital platforms, these online companies, must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content. There needs to be an easy and quick and fast way for people to raise these issues with these platforms and get it taken down," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday afternoon.

Elise Thomas, an open-source intelligence analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, last month said it was not clear how a requirement to provide personal details to open an account would reduce online abuse as many people already make cruel comments under their real names.

"A high bar for evidence of necessity, safety, and effectiveness should be required before the government asks Australians to accept a measure which almost no other country has imposed," Thomas said.

See also: Calls to ID social media users is just another Morrison government rush job

Digital Rights Watch executive director Lucie Krahulcova, meanwhile, has criticised the development of these laws, saying they are not focused on pursuing people who libel, malign, harass, or commit similar crimes online.

"They're not actually very excited about enforcing [existing laws] on behalf of women, people of colour, and historically I think there's plenty of evidence of that in Australia," Krahulcova said.

"When we are speaking now about an attack on anonymity, it is because white men are uncomfortable with the criticism they get online. And that's not just politicians, it's also certain reporters and kind of sports stars and stuff. It is precisely because this societal group of privilege is frustrated with criticism."

The laws, if passed, would also redirect the liability for potential defamation from organisations running a social media page to social media platforms instead.

"Importantly, the reforms will also ensure everyday Australians and Australian organisations with a social media page are not legally considered publishers and cannot be held liable for any defamatory comments posted on their page, providing them with certainty," Morrison said.

Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash explained the attempt to shift defamation liability is in response to the recent Voller High Court case, which set a legal precedent where Australians who maintain social media pages could be publishers of defamatory comments made by others on social media even if they did not know about the comments. Since the ruling, media outlet CNN disabled its Facebook page in Australia.

"We need to ensure that Australians have certainty in relation to who is the publisher for these third party comments. Social media services, they need to step up and they need to understand that they have a responsibility in this regard," Cash said.

Morrison's announcement of the anti-troll social media legislation comes two months after he said social media platforms were a "coward's palace" and declared that they would be viewed as publishers if they are unwilling to identify users that post foul and offensive content.

"Social media has become a coward's palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people's lives, and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity," Morrison said at the time.

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