The Australian government will introduce new legislation to force social media companies to “expose” anonymous users who post offensive comments, or pay them fines for defamation if they cannot or refuse to do so.
The new initiative aims to define social media giants as publishers, making them accountable for user-generated content on their platforms, as well as introducing special mechanisms through which anyone can file a complaint and demand removal from post if he thinks he is being defamed. , intimidated or harassed, announced Sunday the Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a televised press briefing.
The online world shouldn’t be a Wild West where bots, fanatics and trolls and the like circulate anonymously and can harm people.
If a platform refuses to remove offensive content, a court can order it to reveal the identity of the anonymous commenter. If the company refuses again or is unable to identify the troll, then it will be held ultimately responsible and will have to pay the resulting fines.
“Free speech is not allowed to cowardly hide in your basement and in your sleigh, insult and harass people anonymously and seek to destroy their lives.” Morrison said. “In a free society like Australia where we value our freedom of speech, it is only free if this is balanced with responsibility for what you say.”
Morrison gave little information on the details of the proposed legislation, or whether it will be the subject of public debate, but said he expects strong support from Parliament. He previously hinted at an impending crackdown on online anonymity at a G20 summit last month, where he said “The rules that apply in the real world should apply in the digital world”. However, it is unclear exactly how the Australian government expects social media companies to verify the identity of their users.
The new measures, according to Attorney General Michaelia Cash, are also supposed to bring more “clarity” to the Australian High Court ruling in September, which ruled that the media are responsible for user comments even if the stories themselves are not defamatory. The ruling forced several media outlets, including CNN, to shut down their Facebook pages to Australian users due to uncertainty and the risk of defamation complaints.