Mask Off: Social Media Giants to Unmask Trolls or Risk Themselves Becoming Liable for Defamation Payouts
By Cameron Abbott, Rob Pulham, Warwick Andersen, Max Evans and James Gray
In a significant development in online regulatory oversight, the Australian government announced over the weekend that it will introduce new laws handing Australian courts the power to order social media companies to reveal the identities of anonymous trolls or risk themselves being liable for defamation payouts.
The so called “social media anti-trolling legislation” which the government has said will be introduced into parliament this week proposes to require social media companies stand up a functional and easy-to-use complaints and takedown process for users, who upon suspecting they are being defamed, bullied or attacked may file a complaint with the social media platform requesting that the relevant content be removed.
If that request is denied, the complainant can ask the social media company to provide the details of the “troll” so as to enable the complainant to commence an action. If this request is further denied, or if the social media platform is “unable to do this”, complainants may apply to obtain a court order requiring the social media company to release the identification details of the anonymous user so that a defamation action may be pursued. Failure to comply with such a court order will render the social media company themselves liable for the defamation claim.
Significantly, the reports indicate that these new laws will push legal responsibility for defamatory content from the author or page manager to the social media company which runs the platform. This represents a key move away from social media platforms being distributors of content but rather, in the eyes of online safety, being deemed publishers themselves. We will keep you posted as these proposed laws progress.