Government e-security commissioner says anti-trolling laws could confuse people

A push by the federal government to expose vicious online trolls risks creating confusion that could thwart its effectiveness in cracking down on abuse, the country’s online safety commissioner has warned.

Leading legal organizations also called the proposal “piecemeal” and risking undermining years of work by state and territory governments to reform Australia’s defamation laws.

A Senate committee is looking into the details of the Coalition’s bill to give ordinary Australians the power to “unmask trolls” online by requiring social media giants to collect the personal information of Australia-based users.

The idea is that it would be easier for people subjected to vile and defamatory messages on social media to identify the authors of the content, which would give victims more legal remedies.

But Electronic Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant told the committee that the bill’s name, the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022, is misleading because the legislation deals more with the law. on defamation than on the fight against online abuse.

“To lump this all together under the guise of trolling, I don’t think is constructive,” she said.

“Online defamation is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and perhaps if named as intended, it could help minimize confusion.”

Ms Inman Grant said she was concerned about how people would access other people’s personal information under the law, if they were considering taking legal action over online posts.

“You have to understand that … at the moment there are billions of social media accounts that are not linked to any identity information,” she told the committee.

“And for the ability to unmask trolls and give that to someone who may be in a long-standing dispute with someone is, in my opinion, not very safe.

“I believe that this type of sensitive subscriber information should be provided to law enforcement agencies, designated regulators such as ours, or defamation attorneys who have established that a defamation action can be brought and who need this information to move the case forward.”

Wrong approach, say lawyers

The Law Council of Australia told the committee that the suggestion of launching libel suits as a response to abusive material online was the wrong approach.

“We view trolling, this classic type of bullying, threatening behavior, images, offensive material, very real types of conduct that cause great harm in our community as something that the law must absolutely follow,” said Legal Council Chairman Tass Liveris. .

“But libel law is not the answer to this problem, because very little of what constitutes trawling, if anything, will actually be libel law.

“Long, expensive and often inaccessible libel court proceedings, which have different requirements in state and territorial jurisdictions, will ultimately not give that protection to the community.

Erin Molan has been a vocal campaigner against online trolling.(ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

The cost of a ‘crushing’ legal action

Journalist Erin Molan and former Rugby League manager Anthony Siebold, both high profile victims of online abuse, also appeared before the committee.

Ms Molan, who has campaigned for tougher online safety laws, spoke of her own struggles to bring a defamation claim in court.

“It wasn’t in a social media capacity — that was part of it — but against a member of the mainstream media,” she said.

“I earn an above-average salary… and [court action] is crippling – it’s crippling, the cost of it.”

Mr Siebold, who quit coaching the Brisbane Broncos NRL side after a campaign of online abuse against him, agreed the cost would be ‘significant’.

He argued that he had not considered taking the case to court.

“It’s not something I’ve thought deeply about since it happened about 18 months ago,” he told the hearing.

“You have to understand that the time my family and I suffered tremendously.”

A profile picture of Nyadol Nyuon looking straight into the camera and smiling.
Nyadol Nyuon told the committee about the volume of despicable abuse she received online.(Provided: Harmony Alliance)

Lawyer Nyadol Nyuon spoke to the committee about the experience of migrants and refugees being stalked on social media, explaining the vast amount of abuse she experiences online.

She also said the legislation was more about defamation than stopping such despicable behavior, adding that the legal option was out of reach for many.

“Even as a very privileged woman who works full time, I would think twice before putting my money into a defamation suit,” Ms Nyuon said.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows for volume.
Play the video.  Duration: 2 minutes 11 seconds

The government’s plan to expose online trolls

Concern bill would undermine local laws

Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson questioned the Legal Council and apparently slammed the organization for presenting no “provisional” solution while demanding the bill be shelved.

The basis of his concern was a High Court ruling last year, which found the media liable for defamatory comments posted by members of the public.

The government has sought to deal with the ramifications of the decision, shifting accountability from the person or group running the page, to the platform instead.

The Law Council’s Connie Carnabucci, a former CBA chief solicitor, said the High Court’s ruling would place a significant burden on media organizations to moderate all content on their social media sites, even after have passed strict checks before publication with their own legal departments. teams.

But she warned that the legislation before Parliament would “cut back” on years of work by state and territory attorneys general to reform libel law, which is handled by state and territory governments.

About Charles D. Goolsby

Check Also

Protecting the identity of minors in court records is key to rehabilitation

Many of the fundamental principles that we hold dear are in tension with each other. …