Crackdown on online bullying won’t affect free speech, government says as tech giants now responsible

Thanks to new legislation that has become the world’s first, Australian courts can order social media companies to identify the people behind anonymous trolling accounts, or they will have to pay defamation fines themselves.

The proposed new laws will protect people from online abuse but will not affect free speech, Scott Morrison said Sunday.

“Freedom of speech is not allowed to hide your coward in your basement and sled and harass people anonymously and ruin their lives,” Morrison said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) says the online world offers many great opportunities, but it also carries some real risks

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) says the online world offers many great opportunities, but it also carries some real risks

“That’s not freedom, that’s cowardice and there’s no place for that in this country.”

In the coming days, the cabinet will introduce legislation to tackle abuse and bullying on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Under the laws, the tech giants will be forced to reveal the identities of people who anonymously post defamatory or harmful material.

If they cannot or will not identify them, the companies themselves are liable for any defamation payments.

“The online world offers a lot of great opportunities, but there are also some real risks that we need to address, otherwise it will have a very damaging and corrosive impact on our society, on our community,” Scott Morrison told reporters.

The government wants to pass legislation to introduce a mechanism where anyone who feels vilified, bullied or attacked on social media will ask the platform to remove it or risk the payout.

‘They have that responsibility. They created this world,” he said.

Anonymous online trolls may find their identities revealed by social media companies under proposed new Australian law

Anonymous online trolls may find their identities revealed by social media companies under proposed new Australian law

Anonymous online trolls may find their identities revealed by social media companies under proposed new Australian law

“The online world shouldn’t be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others can go around anonymously and harm people,” Morrison said.

What is an online troll?

The internet has created a group of people called trolls who post inflammatory, irrelevant or abusive comments online.

Researchers at Brigham Young University found that those who share such content have a trio of personality traits — narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy — along with gloating, a German word that describes someone who takes pleasure in another’s misfortune.

Those with glee, according to the study, believe that trolling enriches rather than hinders online discussion.

“We would not accept these faceless attacks at school, at home, in the office or on the street. And we don’t have to face it online, on our devices and in our homes.”

Morrison said the government will seek test cases to strengthen these new laws, and take up the case that does not have the financial means to take legal action on its own.

“We will support them in the courts and we will deal with them. We will include them in parliament, and we will include them in the courts, because I want to make sure our children are safe,” the prime minister said.

The crackdown on online trolls will be a change in law to clarify that social media companies are responsible for payouts due to defamatory comments on their sites where the troll cannot be identified.

The tech giants will be considered the comment editors, in addition to the commentators themselves.

Labor opposition leader Anthony Albanese agreed with the government’s announcement but said it must be followed through.

“The government needs to explain how to deal with the fact that domestic controls have limitations on what is a global industry,” he said.

Even very young school children (pictured) can fall victim to anonymous online abuse on social media platforms

Even very young school children (pictured) can fall victim to anonymous online abuse on social media platforms

Even very young school children (pictured) can fall victim to anonymous online abuse on social media platforms

The new legislation is backed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, whose daughter Bridgette was recently smeared on Facebook with false accusations that she was having an affair with former NSW National Party leader John Barilaro.

The government has already passed laws requiring social media companies to pay news organizations to use their content and “destroy the authentic Fourth Estate by tapping advertising revenue.”

Now, Mr Joyce said those same companies can no longer allow platforms to be used to destroy people’s lives and say, ‘It wasn’t me. I didn’t do that.”

‘Something will happen. We will either live in a democracy or a Zuckerbergcy, and we prefer the former.”

Zuckerbergcy is a reference to Facebook creator and head Mark Zuckerberg.

Social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook have been able to evade responsibility for what it’s posted on their sites by claiming they are platforms and not publishers, but the proposed Australian legislation reverses that assumption.

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