New, world-first legislation will allow Australian courts to order social media companies to identify the people behind anonymous trolling accounts or they will have to pay defamation fines themselves.
The proposed new laws will protect people from online abuse but will not affect free speech, Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
‘Free speech is not being allowed to cowardly hide in your basement and sledge and harass people anonymously and seek to destroy their lives,’ Mr Morrison said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) says the online world provides many great opportunities but it comes with some real risks
‘That is not freedom, that is cowardice and there is no place for that in this country.’
The government will introduce legislation in the coming days to crack down on abuse and bullying on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Under the laws, the tech giants will be forced to expose the identity of people who post defamatory or damaging material anonymously.
If they cannot or will not identify them, then the companies themselves will be liable for any defamation payouts.
‘The online world provides many great opportunities but it comes with some real risks and we must address these, or it will continue to have a very harmful and corrosive impact on our society, on our community,’ Scott Morrison told reporters.
The government aims to pass legislation establishing a mechanism whereby anyone who feels they have been defamed, bullied or attacked on social media will ask the platform to take it down or risk the payout.
‘They have that responsibility. They have created this world,’ he said.
Anonymous online trolls may find their identity revealed by social media companies under proposed new Australian legislation
‘The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others can anonymously go around and can harm people,’ Mr Morrison said.
What is an online troll?
The internet has created a group of people called trolls who post inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments online.
Researchers from the US Brigham Young University found those who share such content have a trio of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy – along with schadenfreude, a German word describing someone who takes pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.
Those with schadenfreude, according to the study, consider that trolling enriches, rather than obstructs, online discussion.
‘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.’
Mr Morrison said the government will be looking for test cases to reinforce these new laws, and will take up the cause who do not have the financial means to pursue legal action themselves.
‘We will back them in the courts and we will take them on. We will take them on in the parliament, and we will take them on in the courts because I want to ensure our kids are safe,’ the prime minister said.
The crackdown on online trolls will be a law change to make it clear social media companies are responsible for payouts arising from defamatory comments on their sites where the troll cannot be identified.
The tech giants will be considered the publishers of comments, alongside the commenters themselves.
Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese agreed with the government’s announcement but said it must be delivered on.
‘The government needs to explain how it can deal with the fact that domestic controls have limitations for what is a global industry,’ he said.
Even very young school children (pictured) can be the victims of anonymous online abuse on social media platforms
The new legislation is backed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, whose daughter Bridgette was recently smeared on Facebook with false allegations she was having an affair with former NSW National Party leader John Barilaro.
The government has already introduced laws requiring social media companies to pay news organisations for using their content and ‘destroying the authentic fourth estate by siphoning off advertising revenue’.
Now Mr Joyce said those same companies can no longer allow platforms to be used to destroy people’s lives and say ‘It wasn’t me. I didn’t do that’.
‘Something will be done. We will either live in a democracy or a Zuckerbergcy, and our preference is for the former.’
Zuckerbergcy is a reference to Facebook creator and head Mark Zuckerberg.
Social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook have been able to avoid responsibility for what it posted on their sites by arguing they are platforms and not publishers, but the proposed Australian legislation inverts that assumption.