Social networks could be forced to reveal the identities of those who leave slanderous comments

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new law that will force internet platforms to reveal the identity of the users behind the defamatory comments. As he explained ABC News Australia, the law would put social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, in a position to be held accountable for defamatory comments on a user’s account.

The platforms will need to provide a grievance system that people can use when they feel they are victims of defamation. As part of this process, the person who posted potentially defamatory content will be asked to remove it. But if she refuses, or if the victim is interested in initiating legal proceedings, the platform can then legally ask the slanderer for permission to disclose his contact information.

And if the platform cannot get approval, the law provides for an “end-user disclosure order”, giving technology companies the ability to reveal the user’s identity without permission. If the platform for any reason cannot identify the slanderer or if it refuses to do so, the company will have to pay compensation to the victim. Since the law is related to Australia, it seems that social networks would not have to identify slanderers who are in other countries.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots, fanatics and trolls and others go around anonymously and can harm people,” Morrison said during a news conference. “It’s not what can happen in the real world, so there’s no reason for it to happen in the digital world.”

As announced by ABC News Australia, the draft “anti-troll law” is expected this week and will probably not reach the parliament until the beginning of next year. It is still unclear what specific details the platforms should collect and disclose. Also, it is still unknown how serious a case of defamation would have to be to justify the disclosure of someone’s identity. A loose definition of defamation can pose a serious threat to user privacy.

In September, the Australian High Court ruled that newspaper sites were considered “publishers” of defamatory comments that readers left on their social media pages and should be held accountable. This has led to media outlets like CNN completely blocking Australians from accessing their Facebook page. The verdict implies that the people who run the pages on social networks can also be held responsible for all defamatory comments left on their pages.

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