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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Holding social media platforms accountable for trolls: what a draft Bill in Australia proposes

The Bill comes in response to a Australian High Court judgment that media companies could be held liable for comments that were left by third parties on their social media pages.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 30, 2021 7:56:16 am
Social media companies will be required to disclose identifying details of trolls to victims without consent, which will enable a defamation case to be lodged. (File photo)

On Monday, the Australian government released the draft of a Bill aimed at holding social media companies accountable for the content posted on their platforms, and protecting users from trolls.

In a statement on the Social Media (Basic Expectations and Defamation) Bill 2021 issued on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said: “The reforms will ensure 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 a victim can identify and commence defamation proceedings against the troll.”

Morrison said, “Social media can too often be a cowards’ palace, where the anonymous can bully, harass and ruin lives without consequence. We would not accept these faceless attacks in a school, at home, in the office, or on the street. And we must not stand for it online, on our devices and in our homes.”

What it proposes

* Australians and Australian organisations with a social media page will not be legally considered publishers of content posted there

* Australians will be able to file a complaint if they have reason to believe that they are being defamed by material posted online on a particular social media service.

* Individuals will also be able to give the provider of the service a defamation notice, provided they are able to give evidence that the material in question was the subject of a complaint.

* Social media platforms will be required to establish a standardised complaints system whose purpose will be to ensure that defamatory remarks can be removed and trolls can be identified with their consent.

* Social media companies will also be required to disclose identifying details of trolls to victims without consent, which will enable a defamation case to be lodged.

The trigger

The Bill comes in response to a Australian High Court judgment that media companies could be held liable for comments that were left by third parties on their social media pages.

Dylan Voller, who was the subject of various news stories about youth detention, had brought defamation proceedings against media companies including The Sydney Morning Herald and Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian. He alleged that after the media companies published posts about the news stories that referred to him on their Facebook pages, various third-party users made defamatory comments against him. Lawyers for the media outlets, for their part, argued that they could not be held liable for third-party comments since they were not the publishers of those comments.

On September 8, the High Court of Australia ruled in favour of Voller. It dismissed an appeal by the three media outlets against a decision by the Court of Appeal of the New South Wales Supreme Court, which had said that, “by posting content relating to news stories about Mr Voller, the respondent, on their respective Facebook pages, the appellants were liable for the publication of allegedly defamatory ‘comments’ that were posted by third-party Facebook users in response to the content.”

The statement from the PM’s office quoted Attorney-General Michaelia Cash as saying: “Since the High Court’s decision in the Voller case, it is clear that ordinary Australians are at risk of being held legally responsible for defamatory material posted by anonymous online trolls… The reforms will make clear that, in defamation law, Australians who operate or maintain a social media page are not ‘publishers’ of comments made by others.”

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