Australia’s federal government has pushed for new “anti-trolling legislation” that would see defamation liability shift from social media page owners to social media platforms, as it believes the legislative changes would go a long way to reducing damages in line, but Labor does not agree.
Labor Senator Kim Carr said his party would block the bill because it does not actually address online trolling and could exacerbate its effects.
“The evidence from several witnesses appearing before this committee, including the government department that drafted the bill, establishes conclusively that the bill is no such thing,” Labor senators Kim Carr wrote in a report. [PDF] published by the Senate commission in charge of revising the laws.
“To the contrary, not only does this bill provide no practical means of combating the online trolling scandal, by offering general liability protection to those who host defamatory comments on web pages that they own and administer, as well as the vast safe havens it provides for social media companies hosting defamatory material, the bill is likely to compound the problem of online trolling.”
Carr’s comments are in the minority, however, with the majority on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Standing Committee saying the anti-trolling bill should become law as long as it receives three amendments.
Among these changes, social media page owners are still liable for a poster’s defamatory material where they knowingly encouraged the posting of a poster’s defamatory material and were aware of or aware of the material, but did not report it. still have not deleted quickly.
“The panel is concerned that failure by a social media page owner to promptly remove, upon request, defamatory content from a poster, gives rise to circumstances in which the media page owner social media contributed to the publication of the defamatory content and not only facilitated its publication,” the committee wrote.
The other two recommendations called for changes to the legislation’s complaints regime and the end-user information disclosure order. Under the current version of the Anti-Trolling Bill, social media platforms must ensure that they can notify an accused poster that they are the subject of a complaint within 72 hours of their submission. filing and request permission to remove reported content. , along with other requirements, to avoid liability for defamation.
Despite these requirements, social media platforms would not be allowed to remove the content unless they receive permission, however, for free speech reasons. Addressing how the complaint system works, the Senate committee concluded that social media platforms can remove allegedly defamatory material from a poster, within 72 hours, without the poster’s consent if the poster has not responded to deletion requests.
He concluded that giving social media platforms this power would not result in a violation of freedom of expression.
“While the committee appreciates that the Australian government has been very reluctant to restrict free speech outside of a judicial process, many authors support a quick and easy ‘takedown’ remedy,” the committee writes in the report. .
With respect to the bill’s establishment of end-user information disclosure orders, which seek to compel social media platforms to disclose the identities of anonymous users, the Senate committee recommended that orders be varied so that they cannot be granted if the court is satisfied that disclosing the relevant contact details or country location data is likely to pose a risk to the safety of the poster or any other person, as in domestic violence situations.
While the committee called for changes to when a person’s identity would have to be exposed under the bill’s powers, social media platforms and victims of online abuse said the requirement could create security concerns for vulnerable communities beyond those in situations of domestic violence.
Carr added that while the amendments improve the bill, he said implementing these recommendations “would not come close” to addressing a host of other important concerns that have been raised. He also echoed concerns expressed by Australia’s leading defamation law experts, who called the bill a “violent assault on the crime of defamation”.
Notably, the committee’s final recommendations do not call for amendments to other pieces of the legislation that have come under criticism, such as the power to sue being available only to a select few due to high litigation costs.
To that end, the Senate committee expressed concern that the legislation could give rise to major access-to-justice issues, but remained hesitant to fully support the development of alternative, low-cost forms of online settlement. defamation litigation.
Social media platforms have also complained that the bill would place an “unprecedented level” of defamation risk on social media platforms as it seeks to remove the defense of innocent broadcasting.
The Senate committee appears unconvinced by these arguments, citing the findings of a recent federal social media inquiry that raised concerns about how social media platforms failed to take responsibility and protect adequately Australians from online damage.
Liberal Senator and Attorney General Michaelia Cash has previously said anti-trolling legislation was among the top items, alongside the recently concluded federal social media investigation, that the Coalition wants to get kicked out ahead of this year’s federal election. .
Carr noted that the bill is unlikely to pass before the federal election, as there are only expected to be three sitting days before the election is called.