The Federal Government will introduce a new ‘anti-troll’ bill this week, offering new ways for people to sue for defamation online.

It would see social media companies required to collect personal details of all users and make them reveal the identities of anonymous ‘trolling’ accounts lest they be sued themselves. 

This means Facebook would be considered the publisher — not the news outlet or organisation that runs the page as legislated earlier this year — and could be sued over a defamatory post unless it could identify the troll behind it. In other words, be careful what you tweet, because we know the Libs hate being made fun of

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the “world-leading” bill was to curb cyber-bullying and harassment. So how would it work?

  • Social media companies would have to set up a complaints process for people to flag comments if they claim it’s defamatory and was made within Australia.
  • If the troll refuses to delete their post or comments, the social media company will then have to ask for the troll’s consent to pass on their personal information, like name, phone number and email address.
  • If the troll says no, the person flagging the comment can go to the courts to seek an order to force the social media company to ‘unmask’ the troll.
  • If the social media company follows this process, they will be protected from the defamation lawsuit under Australia law. If they can’t identify the troll — as in, they didn’t have the right processes in place to collect identifying information or the information was fraudulent — then they’ll be the ones getting sued.

Questions have already been raised over the social media companies’ ability to verify identifying information, raising concerns that users could simply use a fake email address.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also said the laws would be easily avoidable as they’re only for Australian-registered accounts and anyone can simply use a foreign IP address.

“The government needs to explain how it can deal with the fact that domestic controls have limitations for what is a global industry,” he said.

One cyberbullying expert, Ginger Gorman, told Guardian Australia that the laws won’t stop cyberbullying, saying it was too little too late.

“The government must legislate a duty of care so the public has to be kept safe by the platform. They are continually publishing egregious content and have no accountability for this,” she said.

This is parliament’s final sitting week for the year so the bill will drop in the next couple of days.

Image: Getty Images / Rohan Thomson