Monday, 29 November 2021

Combatting online trolls and strengthening defamation laws

Significant new reforms and court powers will unmask trolls and better protect Australians from online bullying and defamation.

Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said the Coalition Government’s world-leading reforms will be welcomed by anyone who has ever been targeted online by trolls or bullies.

“For far too long, people have been able to hide behind anonymous and fake accounts on social media and use them to harass, intimidate, bully and defame individuals,” Mr Pitt said.

“For victims it is relentless. Each time an account is shut down, a new one pops up and the abuse continues. Sometimes the troll switches to a different social media platform and the abuse starts all over again.

“If this was happening on the street, you’d be able to identify who was responsible, but social media platforms have provided the perfect environment for people to not be held accountable for this atrocious behaviour.

“In my maiden speech I said: Social media’s greatest threat is to our children: Not because of the medium itself, but because you never can be sure who is on the other end. Our challenge, as elected Members of Parliament, will be to find the delicate balance between free speech, the right to information and protecting the vulnerable.

“I spoke in support of the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill which saw the office of the e-safety commissioner established and have continued to call out fake and anonymous accounts, there is just no place for them.

“But enough is enough. We are acting to protect people from online abuse and keep Australians safe.

“These reforms will ensure social media platforms can help victims of online abuse unmask their abusers to hold them accountable for their actions.

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

The reforms will incentivise social media providers to put new pathways in place for victims to obtain the contact details of anonymous online trolls, which will assist in starting defamation proceedings.

Under a new complaints scheme, victims could complain to the social media provider about defamatory posts, and the social media provider could disclose the poster’s contact details with consent. Victims would also be able to apply for a new form of Federal Court order to unmask the identity of the anonymous poster. The new complaints scheme and court orders will be simple, accessible and affordable. 

To incentivise platforms, social media providers will be deemed to be ‘publishers’ of defamatory comments made on their platforms. However, they will have the benefit of a defence to defamation proceedings if they adopt the new mechanisms to unmask online trolls.

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