Australia's anti-trolling Bill blasted by senators, online abuse victims and organisations alike

From being too hard to access to being unclear, various people have testified that the anti-trolling Bill needs more work if it is to become law.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Labor Senator Kim Carr blasted the federal government's proposed anti-trolling laws on Thursday, saying the legislation is "grossly inadequate" in light of critics saying it could create various unintended consequences.

The proposed anti-trolling laws seek to compel social media platforms into creating complaints schemes that allow people to issue complaints about potential defamatory material and receive information about the poster of that material for the purposes of initiating legal proceedings.  

"Every submission today has said this Bill is grossly inadequate in terms of its drafting of the unintended consequences," said Carr, who is the deputy chair of the Senate committee tasked with reviewing the anti-trolling legislation.

Carr made those comments at the committee's first hearing to review the Bill, where various individuals and organisations criticised the Bill's construction.

Nyadol Nyuon, an African-Australian human rights advocate and lawyer who has been the victim of online racial abuse, told the Senate committee that the high costs of initiating defamation proceedings would be a major barrier for many Australians in using the proposed Bill's powers.

Despite her legal expertise, Nyuon said she would be unlikely to use the proposed Bill's powers herself due to this barrier.

"The sheer volume of it makes it almost hard to be able to deal with each individual that comes with it," she said.

"I can assure you even as a very privileged woman who works a full-time job, I would think twice before putting my money on a defamation claim."

According to Electronic Frontiers Australia, bringing a defamation lawsuit in Australia costs between AU$20,000 to AU$80,000.

Another high profile victim of online abuse who appeared before the committee, former TV presenter Erin Molan, said the current construction of the Bill would "exclude 99.9% of Australians" from opportunities to seek redress against defamatory behaviour.

"It would be absolutely impossible to afford, when the cost of living is already high enough for people to afford to get a lawyer and take action," Molan said.

Nyuon added that the powers afforded by the Bill are narrow in the sense that it "doesn't seem to catch up how online abuse can shift".

She told the committee that there have been various examples of migrant women reporting online abuse material to Facebook, with the social media platform refusing to take that material down due to it not being in English or the abuse being veiled under the form of offensive rhetorical questions.

When asked how the federal government could better address online abuse and defamatory material, Nyuon testified that more resources should be provided to the eSafety commissioner, which already has powers to order social media companies to provide basic subscriber information to the commissioner when serious online bullying occurs.

eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant also appeared before the committee on Thursday, blasting the Bill due to it addressing defamation under the guise of anti-trolling legislation.

In Inman Grant's testimony to the committee, she said the federal government's proposed laws conflated serious online abuse with defamation.

"Conflating defamation with trolling is mixing apples with oranges. Not only does this catch-all term of trolling trivialise seriously harmful forms of online abuse -- you can troll someone endlessly without defaming them," Inman Grant said.

Inman Grant said a third of the complaints made to her office regarding online cyber abuse has been related to defamatory content, which is outside of the commissioner's remit.

The committee is set to provide its findings later this month as Liberal Senator and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash previously said the anti-trolling legislation is among the primary items, alongside the federal social media probe, that the Coalition wants to get pushed out before this year's federal election.

Carr on Thursday afternoon noted, however, that the Bill is unlikely to pass before the federal election as there is only expected to be three sitting days before the election is called.


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