Australia declares war on online anonymity — Analysis

The Australian government will introduce a new legislation to force social media companies “unmask” anonymous users who post offensive comments, or make them pay defamation fines if they are unable or refuse to do so.

The initiative will make social media giants publishers. It also makes them accountable for user-generated content. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement during a live televised press conference on Sunday.

It is not a safe place for bots to anonymously harm others and cause bigots or bigots offense. 

An anonymous commenter may be identified by a court if a platform won’t delete the offensive material. In case the company again refuses or is unable to identify the troll – then it will be held ultimately liable and will have to pay any resulting fines.

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“Free speech is not being allowed to cowardly hide in your basement and sledge and slur and harass people anonymously and seek to destroy their lives,”Morrison declared. “In a free society such as Australia where we value our free speech, it is only free when that is balanced with the responsibility for what you say.”

Morrison provided no details on the proposed legislation. He also did not say if the bill would go to public debate. However, he stated that he anticipates the support of the Parliament. Previous comments made by Morrison at the G20 Summit last month hinted that there would be a crackdown against online anonymity. “the rules that apply in the real world should apply in the digital world.”It is not clear how the Australian government will expect social media companies that verify identities to do so.

According to Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General, the new measures should also be more effective. “clarity” to Australia’s High Court’s decision back in September, which ruled that media are liable for user comments even if the stories themselves are not defamatory. CNN and other media outlets were forced by the ruling to remove their Australian pages from Facebook. This was due to uncertainity regarding defamation lawsuits.



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