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Social Media Sites Face Being Sued Over Defamatory Remarks

Social media sites, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google in fact any digital media Company that publishes defamatory remarks, now face the real risk that they could be sued in the same way that newspapers, TV stations and radio can in Australia.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has announced that a new Federal Court order will be established that requires social media giants to disclose identifying details of people who have posted defamatory remarks especially those who try to hide behind false names.

Those that have posted remarks without requiring consent, face a defamation case being lodged in the Federal Court under the new laws which will have the power to demand of the social media sites the identity of those posting defamatory remarks.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison claims that the Federal Government will hold Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms responsible for harmful content and impose the same legal liabilities as mainstream publishers.

The government claims the changes will be some of the strongest in the world to tackle damaging comments from anonymous online trolls.

They mean social media companies are considered publishers and can be held liable for defamatory comments posted on their platforms if they do not reveal the identity of users responsible.

“The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around … [where they can] harm people and hurt people, harass them and bully them and sledge them,” Mr Morrison said.

“That is not Australia. That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world. Australia wants to be … one of the world’s leading digital economies, but for that to be true the digital world has to be safe.”

Initially the social media players will be required to have a standardised complaints system that ensures defamatory remarks can be removed and trolls identified with their consent.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the government wanted to bring clarity to the law, making sure that the average social media user running a page or sharing content was not deemed the publisher of defamatory posts published on their page or profile.

“The small business in Canberra, the journalists represented here today, the mum and dads around Australia [running a social media page] – you will be deemed not to be the publisher,” she said.

” We need to ensure that Australians have certainty in relation to who is the publisher … Social media services, they need to step up and they need to understand that they have a responsibility in this regard.”

The decision by the Federal Government to act follows a Voller High Court decision, which said that unlike the platforms themselves, news publishers could be found liable for defamatory posts on their social media pages.

It was the result of a complaint against big media organisations, including Nine (the owner of this masthead), from former youth detainee Dylan Voller.

Nine said the government’s move was a welcome step in bringing Australia’s defamation laws into the 21st century.

In the Australian Financial Review which is owned by Nine Media the Company said, “Nine welcomes the government’s announcement today, which will put responsibility for third-party comments made on social media pages with the person who made the comment or with the platforms if the platforms cannot identify the person,” said Nine managing director of publishing James Chessell.

“For some time now, Nine, along with other media companies, has been campaigning for reform of defamation laws, to bring them into the 21st century. The government’s announcement is a welcome step in this direction.”

News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller also welcomed the announcement as a positive step.

“These are tough new world-first laws that will give Australian courts the power to order social media giants to identify perpetrators or risk incurring hefty defamation payouts,” he said.

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