The Morrison Government will introduce “anti-trolling” legislation that would appoint new obligations to social media platforms in the event of online harassment or defamation. Under the legislation, social media companies would be compelled to reveal the personal information of users being sued for defamation.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash came together to unveil a new “anti-trolling” bill. The legislation would hold social media companies accountable for comments deemed to be defamatory or harassment.
If brought to the courts in a defamation case, the legislation would mean the courts could make social media companies reveal the identities of commenters. The prime minister stressed the importance of the legislation in protecting those subject to online harassment.
“In a free society such as Australia where we value our free speech, it is only free when that is balanced with the responsibility for what you say,” Mr Morrison said in a press conference.
“Free speech is not being allowed to cowardly hide in your basement and sledge and slur and harass people anonymously and seek to destroy their lives.”
The attorney-general said those subject to defamatory online comments could apply to the Federal Court of Australia for what is called an ‘end user discloser order’.
“In other words, they will be able to go to the Federal Court and say, ‘I believe I have been defamed, and I am unable tot take this action any further because this person is at this time anonymous,” Ms Cash said.
If passed, the legislation would make it so that social media companies would be obligated to unmask and disclose the identities of such users. The extent of the personal information that would be disclosed is not yet certain, though it is likely to be revealed after the draft legislation is published.
“The online world shouldn’t be a wild west, where bots and bigots and trolls and others can anonymously go around and harm people and hurt people,” said Mr Morrison.
“That is not Australia…that is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”
A draft of the legislation is expected to be released this week, with plans to introduce it to parliament next year.