Transcript – 6PR Breakfast with Gareth Parker – Social media defamation laws

Nov 29, 2021 | Federal News


GARETH PARKER: Have you been bullied or trolled online? What was the experience like? Did you have any success in trying to get the social media company to do anything about it? I don’t think Facebook have got a phone number in this country. Certainly you can’t ring anyone up and talk to them. That’s not just for people like us who want to try and organise a media interview. But how do you actually get on and try and report a problem? Do the online reports actually take you anywhere? Do they do anything? The Morrison Government say that Australians are sick and tired. They’re fed up of bullying behaviour online, and they want to try and force social media companies to do something about it. This is a global problem, obviously. So these new laws which are set to be released this week, what will they do? How will they work? Joining me on 6PRBreakfast is the Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. Attorney-General, good morning.

MINISTER CASH: Good morning, and good morning to your listeners in my hometown of Perth.

GARETH PARKER: Indeed now, I think people are pretty fed up with this sort of behaviour online. Would you agree?

MINISTER CASH: Oh, look, absolutely. And that’s why, I mean, this is world first, introducing the new power was to force global social media giants to unmask anonymous online trolls. And as you know, though, it’s to better protect Australians online. But for far too long, trolls, bots and bigots have flourished online, behind a digital curtain of anonymity. That is just an absolute disgrace. And what we’re saying to both the social media company and the anonymous trolls, you’re on notice, you will be named and you will be held to account for what you say online.

GARETH PARKER: So how are these laws actually going to work? What will they force the social media companies to do and under what circumstances?

MINISTER CASH: Yep, so in the first instance, the law does two things. It clarifies who is the publisher of the defamatory comments on social media. Because as you know, following the Fairfax and Voller case, what Voller said was, Australians who maintain social media pages can be publishers of defamatory comments made by third parties on their social media page, even if I, as the page owner, don’t know about the comments. That Gareth, has caused a lot of confusion out there and in particular, amongst small businesses. You utilise a Facebook page, you’re promoting your company, you’re a plumber, and someone goes on and puts a defamatory comment, what the Voller case says is, Mr. Plumber, you could be liable. So what we will do in the first instance is we will clarify who is the publisher. Mum and Dad, small businesses, page owners, you will not be the publisher, but we will deem the social media company the publisher. Secondly, we’re going to protect basically Australian social media users from defamatory comments and we’re going to give them the ability, in the first instance, work with a social media company, and unmask the anonymous online troll. When you get their information, you’re able to institute defamation proceedings. Or alternatively, if you are unable to do that, we are actually going to introduce an end user information disclosure order. Victims will now be able to seek a new disclosure order from the court and basically again, unmasking the troll, but without their consent.

GARETH PARKER: So if you know, someone who’s posting online as onlineguy75 has subjected me to a vicious campaign of bullying, I can then go to Twitter and say, can you please furnish me with the personal details of onlineguy75 and they’ll be compelled to give it to me?

MINISTER CASH: So what you’re talking about is actually the work that Minister Paul Fletcher has done in relation to the Online Safety Act. So remember, we deal with the Online Safety Act basically deals with cyber abuse, which is what you’re referring to, when you jump into the space I deal with, it’s defamation. So basically, someone has published material which harms your reputation. But in relation to your question, because it’s a very good question. What can you do? Well, we introduced the legislation, the Online Safety Act, and we now have or will have a complaint based removal notice scheme for cyber abuse being perpetrated against Australian adults and again, for far too long this has been allowed to occur. So they commence in the next few weeks. But what we’ll have is an online takedown scheme, to basically allow the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to issue removal notices for content she deems to constitute what you’ve referred to, online abuse, imaged base abuse and harmful online content within a 24 hour period. She also has the ability to obtain the end user identity information or contact details from the social media companies. So that’s the cyber abuse side of the online world. Isn’t it terrible, Gareth, that we have to talk about the online world like this, the cyber abuse part and then the defamatory part. But enough is enough. We’re putting an end to it as the Morrison Government.

GARETH PARKER: Anthony Albanese, he’s backing the goal. But he does say that he wants to see how people would be prevented from perhaps opening an anonymous account offshore. So you set it up in another country? Is that something that you can do anything about? Or is this going to be a sort of hole in the laws?

MINISTER CASH: Basically in terms of what this bill is looking at, it is very much in relation to comments that are made in Australia. So one of the things that you can get from the social media company, is where is this comment being made. So the bill targets the services provided in Australia, and only affects liability for comments made in Australia. So as a government, we’re not trying to regulate defamation liability for comments made in say, Kazakhstan, or in Peru. But if the comment is made in Australia, you see the company the social media service, they will be able to tell if it’s been made overseas or not. And they will have to, under the complaints mechanism, provide you with the country location data, because then you know, okay, the comments been made in Australia, there’s now more that I can do. If the comments are not made in Australia, you may not wish to take any further action, but certainly, this provides or effects liability for comments made in Australia.

GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General I appreciate you explaining the laws features to us this morning.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.

GARETH PARKER: Michaelia Cash, the Federal Attorney-General.



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