Federal government confirms major social media reforms – The Western Weekender


Scott Morrison. Photo: Melinda Jane

Social media giants will be forced to expose anonymous online trolls, while the media will not be responsible for comments on their Facebook pages under new legislation to be implemented by the Australian government.

The reforms will also ensure that ordinary Australians and Australian organizations, such as newspapers, with a social media page are not legally considered editors and cannot be held responsible for defamatory comments posted on their page.

This follows a recent High Court ruling that essentially declared owners of Facebook pages to be editors, making them responsible for commenting on their stories.

The reforms will be among the most powerful powers in the world when it comes to tackling damaging comments from anonymous online trolls and holding global social media giants to account.

The reforms will ensure that social media companies are considered publishers and can be held liable for defamatory comments posted on their platforms. They can avoid this liability if they provide information that ensures that a victim can identify and initiate libel proceedings against the troll.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said rules that exist in the real world should also exist online.

Social media can too often be a palace of cowards, where anonymous people can intimidate, harass and ruin lives without consequence,” Mr. Morrison said.

“We would not accept these faceless attacks in a school, at home, in the office or on the street. And we must not defend it online, on our devices and in our homes.

“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 of their platforms. They can’t allow it, spread it and wash their hands of it. It must stop.

“These will be some of the most powerful powers in the world to fight online trolls.

“Anonymous trolls are warned, you will be named and held accountable for what you say.” Big tech companies are notified, remove the anonymity shield, or are held accountable for what you post.

“In a free society with free speech, you cannot be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held responsible for it.”

The reforms will give victims of defamatory comments online two ways to unmask trolls and resolve disputes.

First, global social media platforms will be required to establish a fast, simple and standardized complaints system that ensures that defamatory remarks can be removed and trolls identified with their consent. This recognizes that Australians often just want to remove harmful comments.

Second, a new Federal Court order will be made requiring social media giants to disclose troll credentials to victims, without consent, which in turn will allow libel action to be taken.

Attorney General Michaelia Cash said it was important to ensure the right people were held to account for defamatory comments.

“Since the High Court ruling in the Voller case, it is clear that ordinary Australians risk being held legally responsible for defamatory material posted by anonymous trolls online,” she said.

“It’s not fair and it’s not fair. Australians expect to be held accountable for their own actions, but should not be forced to pay for the actions of others they cannot control.

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

The attorney general said the reform package would complement defamation reforms currently underway in partnership with states and territories, and align with the government’s commitment to improve online security.

“Social media providers should take their fair share of responsibility for defamatory content posted on their platforms,” she said.

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

An exposure draft of the legislation will be released in the coming week. This will allow all Australians, industry, states, territories and stakeholders to have a say in these important new laws.


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