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Anti-trolling bill goes to parliament

Anti-trolling bill
The federal government's anti-trolling bill has been introduced to parliament. Photo: AAP
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An anti-trolling bill designed to hold tech giants to account for online harassment has been introduced to parliament.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher presented the new laws to the House of Representatives on Thursday, before the bill hit the Senate and was sent to a committee.

The proposed laws seek to force social media platforms to take down posts featuring online harassment, and potentially provide identities of anonymous posters.

Mr Fletcher said the bill was designed to “ensure defamation law is fit for purpose in the digital age”.

“It is in the nature of social media that defamatory posts may go viral and may be disseminated to a wide audience, amplifying the harm,” he said.

“The Australian government is committed to keeping Australians safe from online harm including from the harmful impacts of defamatory material posted anonymously on social media.”

The bill had previously drawn criticism for not containing the word “troll” despite it being labelled “anti-trolling” legislation, but the minister said the title referenced posting defamatory material is a form of trolling.

He noted trolling ranges from “really annoying to criminal”.

“This bill provides a powerful tool to Australians who have been subjected to defamatory attacks by social media trolls and who may be considering legal proceedings to protect themselves,” Mr Fletcher said.

He said the laws “urgently respond” to the High Court’s Voller decision, which found media organisations are liable for third-party comments.

Mr Fletcher said the government was concerned the added liability risks may have had a “chilling effect” on free speech, with page owners censoring or disabling comments for “fear of being held liable for content they did not post”.

A parliamentary inquiry into social media and online safety that examined the bill across a number of public hearings has not yet been completed, with a final report due to be tabled on Tuesday.

– AAP