Australia’s defamation laws could reveal social media trolls’ identities


It’s often said that one reason people act like trolls online is because of the anonymity offered by the internet, but those in Australia will soon be unable to hide behind their screens. The country’s government is set to introduce legislation that will allow social media companies to reveal the identity of trolling accounts, letting people sue them for defamation.

The Guardian reports that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his government would introduce legislation this week requiring social media companies to collect personal details, likely phone numbers, email addresses and contact names, of current and new users so they can be handed over in defamation cases.

The new law would make the social networks themselves, rather than organizations that run the pages, accountable for user comments. The platforms will also be required to create a complaints procedure that allows people to request material be taken down if they believe it to be defamatory. Should the poster be unwilling to remove their post, or if the victim wishes to pursue legal action, the platform can ask the poster for consent to release their details. If they refuse, a court order can allow the information to be released without permission.

If, for whatever reason, the platforms cannot or will not identify the troll, the firms will have to pay for the poster’s defamatory comments. As this is an Australian law, it will only apply to users in that country.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and can harm people,” said Morrison. “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.”

One of the biggest problems with the system will doubtlessly be the verification of information handed over by users. Most trolls will probably give fake details when signing up.

In September, Australia’s High Court ruled that news sites should be considered liable for defamatory posts to their Facebook pages, rather than the posters themselves. This ruling led to some outlets blocking Australians from accessing their Facebook pages.