Skip to main content
News 1 Dec 2021 - 4 min read

Australian government will force Big Tech to hand over name, email and phone numbers of defaming anonymous trolls; social media inquiry set into the 'wellbeing of Australians'

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Senior Writer
Big Tech: Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Pinterest, TikTok, Snapchat

“We're saying something very simple. You built it. You make it safe. And if you won’t, we will make you,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said .

The government has taken aim at social platforms in a series of announcements that include a law forcing Big Tech to hand over the name, email address and phone number of anonymous users found to defame other people.

What you need to know:

  • The government has made several announcements over the past few days to crack down on social media platforms. Today, those announcements all came out at once.
  • First, the federal government has created a new inquiry to look at the impacts of social platforms on the “wellbeing of Australians”. It will start hearings this month and report back in February.
  • Second, it has released draft legislation that would give an avenue for victims of defamation online (ie by “trolls”) to compel social platforms to release the name, email address and phone number of alleged perpetrators.

Victims of defamation could legally request the name, email address and phone number of anonymous social media trolls, under proposed new federal laws released today.

In a rather big day for social media, the Australian government has also today launched a new inquiry into the impacts of social platforms. Federal MP Lucy Wicks will chair the new inquiry, which will begin hearings in this month and examine “toxic material on social platforms and the dangers this poses to the well-being of Australians”. The committee is due to report back by February 20.

“We're saying something very simple. You built it. You make it safe. And if you won’t, we will make you,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a press conference.

“The rules in the real world have to be the same in the online world.”

The government released an exposure draft of proposed legislation that would force the likes of Facebook and Twitter to reveal the identities of anonymous users who defame people online.

In an 11-page explanatory paper published today alongside the exposure draft legislation, the government says the bill would create two ways for victims of defamation to unmask anonymous users: By raising a complaint with the platform, or through a so-called “end-user information disclosure order” made by a court. In both situations, the victim would receive the name, email address and phone number of their alleged perpetrator, allowing them to serve court documents.

“These mechanisms will provide easy, quick and fair methods to obtain contact details of posters who made comments in Australia,” the paper says.

The legislation is a rapid response to a High Court decision, Fairfax Media Publications v Voller, that found media companies may be legally deemed “publishers” of defamatory material by third parties. That means a small business or media outlet could be found to have defamed someone for something a user said in a comment on a Facebook post – even if they weren’t aware of the comment.

“The Government considers it is not appropriate for social media account owners to be liable for defamatory comments posted by others,” the government said in its explanatory paper. While defamation is currently a state-based tort at common law, this legislation would “complement” local laws.

Share your reaction (and see how others voted)

Leave a comment (you must be logged in)

Be the first to comment

Market Voice

Search Mi3 Articles

Make it personal

Join Mi3 to receive our weekly edition and personalise your experience