Australian PM wants social media platforms to out ‘wild west’ of ‘bots, bigots and trolls’ using new laws

·3-min read

Social media platforms in Australia could soon be required to reveal the details of anonymous users who post defamatory content.

New legislation will be introduced by the Australian government that could redefine the extent of responsibility for content that is posted on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Responsibility for online content, especially material deemed defamatory, could shift to the platforms themselves.

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison attacked what he called the “wild west” of the online world during a televised press briefing on Sunday.

“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,” Mr Morrison said.

“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,” he added.

The new laws will seek to establish a complaints mechanism through which affected users can request material, which they feel has defamed, attacked or bullied them, to be taken down.

If the users who have posted such material refuse to take down their posts or if such content is not withdrawn, a process involving courts could take place.

Social media platforms would then have to reveal the details of such users, opening up the possibility of defamation proceedings.

Exactly what personal details will be revealed through such laws, however, is not yet clear.

The responsibility for such online content can, thus, shift from users and online companies that manage this content to the social media platforms themselves.

Mr Morrison also pointed out that the government could intervene in court and fight social media companies that try to avoid releasing personal details.

“We will be looking for test cases that can reinforce these laws,” Mr Morrison said during the briefing, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“So if the digital companies or others think they’re only just going to have to be dealing with perhaps someone of little means seeking to pursue this, then we will look for those cases. We will back them in the courts and we will take them on,” he further said, adding that a public defender’s office to take up such cases was being mooted by the government.

“They have created the space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them [through] laws such as this.”

The announcement of the new legislation comes months after Australia’s highest court ruled that publishers could be held responsible for public comments on online forums.

Soon after the ruling, news networks like CNN restricted Australians from accessing their Facebook pages.

Mr Morrison has not had kind words for social media platforms in the past as well.

Just last month, he deemed such platforms to be a “coward’s palace”.

“Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity,” he had said, adding that digital platforms should be held liable for defamatory content posted anonymously.

Additional reporting by agencies

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