An anti-trolling bill designed to hold tech giants accountable for online harassment has been introduced in parliament.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher introduced the new laws in the House of Representatives on Thursday, before the bill reached the Senate and went to committee.
The proposed laws aim to force social media platforms to remove posts featuring online harassment and potentially provide anonymous poster identities.
Mr Fletcher said the bill was intended to ‘ensure that defamation law is fit for the digital age’.
“It is in the nature of social media that defamatory messages can go viral and be disseminated to large audiences, amplifying harm,” he said.
“The Australian Government is committed to protecting Australians from harm online, including the harmful effects of defamatory content posted anonymously on social media.”
The bill had previously drawn criticism for not containing the word ‘troll’ despite being branded ‘anti-trolling’ legislation, but the minister said the title referred to defamatory material as a form of trolling.
He noted that trolling ranged from “really annoying to criminal”.
“This bill provides a powerful tool for Australians who have been the victim of defamatory attacks by social media trolls and who may be considering legal action to protect themselves,” Mr Fletcher said.
He said the laws “respond urgently” to the High Court’s Voller decision, which found media organizations are liable for third-party commentary.
Mr Fletcher said the government was concerned that the additional liability risks could have a “chilling effect” on free speech, with page owners censoring or disabling comments for “fear of being held liable for content that ‘they didn’t publish’.
A parliamentary inquiry into social media and online safety that examined the bill through a number of public hearings has not yet been completed, and a final report is due on Tuesday.