Australia Will Soon Introduce Anti-Defamation Laws For Social Media

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What is Twitter without its trolls? Would Facebook be as engaging without its booming population of bot accounts?

That’s what the Australian government is hoping to figure out. On Sunday, Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced legislation to curb online defamation and hold social media companies accountable for the content on their platforms. But not everyone is clicking “like.”

Anti-Social Behavior

The process for Australia’s new online content law is a bit byzantine, so let’s break it down. The legislation intends to make it easier to pursue legal recourse against posters of defamatory content and encourages Big Tech to help out along the way — or pay the consequences.

To do so, Australia would mandate a complaint system on the sites giving users a chance to flag posts they believe defame them and request they be taken down. From there, the process diverges:

  • If, say, Facebook or Reddit decides against the request to remove content, a complainant can then request the personal information of the original (potentially anonymous) poster to pursue legal action.
  • If the company denies the request for personal info, a court order can force the disclosure, and, crucially, the company itself may then also be liable for defamation.

Morrison has made his intentions clear: “They have created a space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them (through) laws such as this.”

Defamation Down Under: Australia has long held looser defamation laws than America. In September, its high court ruled media publications such as CNN or News Corp are liable for any defamatory comments that appear in the comments of their social media pages and posts — a sharp contrast to the U.S.’ laissez-faire standards.

No Troll Toll: Experts agree the law could crackdown on defamation, but the difficulty of verifying the personal information of users and the leeway given for non-defamatory trolling and cyberhate means it won’t solve every problem. “Overall I’d say this is far too little too late — so much real harm has already been done. And this doesn’t go far enough,” author and cyberhate expert Ginger Gorman told The Guardian.