Government ‘anti-troll’ reform will encourage defamation: Facebook

Reforms aimed at giving According to Facebook’s parent company Meta, Australians have more ways to respond to defamatory comments made about them, “emboldening” people to make more defamatory comments.

A Senate committee is currently investigating the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022, which sets out an “innovative new framework for Australians to respond to defamatory content posted on social media”.

It does this by offering people who believe they have been defamed in a social media comment the chance to ask the company concerned to identify the anonymous poster, and by reversing the High Court’s Voller decision, making the administrators of social media pages not responsible for third party comments. It also relieves tech companies of some liability if they have adequate complaint systems in place.

Despite its name and comments made about it by the Prime Minister, ministry officials confirmed that the bill is not about online safety or ‘trolling’, as that word is not even defined. or used in current legislation.

The legislation has been criticized for doing little to address harms occurring online and for simply providing another avenue for wealthy people to sue for defamation.

The bill has also drawn ire from Big Tech companies, who say the new system is “unenforceable” and could actually allow individuals to defame others online.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry, Facebook’s parent company Meta said the new laws would “embolden” people to make defamatory statements because they’re less likely to be held accountable for them. turning to social media companies.

“We believe the consequences of the law could go further and actually encourage people to make defamatory statements online,” Meta’s submission said.

“The legislation makes the social media platform just as responsible for the content as the author, and it removes the defense of innocent broadcasting social media services. Since social media companies will almost always be more attractive defendants than the authors of the message, people who wish to make defamatory statements online will essentially be able to do so with impunity.

Facebook faces more regulation in Australia

Meta also argued that requiring anonymous posters to be identified would mean more data is being collected on Australians, including by companies based in China.

“This prompts much greater collection and verification of Australians’ data by social media platforms, most of which are headquartered overseas,” the company said.

The Senate committee must report before budget sitting time, the last three sitting days before the federal election. Meta warned that ‘anti-trolling’ legislation should not be rushed through parliament during these three sitting days.

“We believe that significant changes are required before the legislation is feasible or able to effectively achieve the policy objective of reducing harmful content online,” the document states.

“If rushed through Parliament to meet an election timetable, there would be serious consequences for Australians’ use of social media products, as digital platforms work to inform millions of Australians the need to regularly share and verify their personal details online. . Instead, we urge policymakers to take the time to ensure that defamation reform is effective, proportionate and sustainable.

Big Tech companies have also warned that the reforms will lead to more censorship, with YouTube telling the committee they will lead to a “censored society”.

The Google-owned company said the current approach had been “rushed and piecemeal” and the legislation was “unworkable”.

“This creates unnecessary complexity and confusion in defamation law, which is complex enough already. It is also inconsistent with creating a platform-independent media regulatory framework,” YouTube’s submission said.

In its own communication, social media company Twitter said the defamation reforms are an “example of the current political environment in Australia, which contains fragmented responsibilities across multiple government departments and agencies”.

“As drafted, the bill functionally places private businesses in the awkward position of having to assess and determine the likelihood of a plaintiff’s right to relief through defamation proceedings. , displacing the essential role and function of the courts,” the Twitter submission said.

“The net consequence would be that the companies involved act as the sole arbiters of truth when it comes to online speech.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email.

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