20. January 2022

Defamation isn’t the biggest worry about social media



The authorities’s chest-thumping about defamation on social media seems like an answer on the lookout for an issue. There are official public issues about social media and powerful assist for higher regulation, however I’m not satisfied on a regular basis Australians are chomping at the bit to launch their very own libel instances.

Yet on Sunday Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced plans to drive social media platforms to unmask on-line “trolls” to allow individuals to sue for defamation. Meanwhile, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General Amanda Stoker stated the authorities might again the legal guidelines by publicly funding check instances on behalf of bizarre individuals.

Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash have  announced a change to defamation laws to tackle anonymous trolls.

Scott Morrison and Michaelia Cash have introduced a change to defamation legal guidelines to deal with nameless trolls.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Getty Images

This deal with defamation speaks extra about the preoccupations of politicians than the rest. The Resolve Political Monitor earlier this week confirmed a transparent majority of Australians wished individuals to be pressured to make use of their actual names on social media to scale back on-line trolling and for social media platforms to be chargeable for what they revealed. But the ballot didn’t ask a query particularly about defamation.

Speaking as somebody who spends a good period of time on-line and has witnessed loads of trolling, the deal with defamation misses the level. Don’t get me mistaken. I don’t assume it’s honest that people and organisations who run social media accounts are legally liable if a consumer posts a defamatory remark, as a result of platforms like Facebook haven’t supplied ample instruments. There’s no pre-moderation, or mechanically turning off feedback on outdated posts, for instance.

But nor would I conflate on-line security for bizarre individuals with their proper to sue for defamation. Posts by trolls are often abusive and typically threatening, however they’re not at all times defamatory. Defamation requires the remark to be made to a 3rd individual and the worst of those messages are sometimes despatched by personal message.

Defamation regulation additionally doesn’t assist while you’re coping with an unlimited barrage of feedback – a “pile-on” in social media parlance. There will be justified criticism blended in with abuse or dangerous religion interpretations of what was stated and these feedback will be psychologically damaging with out being defamatory.


Australians are additionally apprehensive about the means the social media platforms prey upon their human foibles to maintain their consideration and engagement in any respect value; main individuals into political extremism or conspiracy theories, for instance, or triggering and exacerbating consuming issues.

It’s not way back that US-based whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed some stunning practices at the firm previously generally known as Facebook, now referred to as Meta Platforms. Thousands of pages of proof confirmed how the firm had constantly put income earlier than security with each its flagship product and with Instagram.

Yet the similar week that Haugen testified earlier than the US Congress, each Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce responded by speaking about defamation. It nearly felt like they have been altering the subject, although Joyce had private causes to convey it up, as a result of his daughter has been the topic of scurrilous nameless gossip.

Despite Morrison saying this week that he wished these legal guidelines “to protect women”, defamation is a instrument largely utilized by the wealthy and highly effective, particularly politicians and particularly males.


This yr alone, Defence Minister Peter Dutton, former attorney-general Christian Porter, federal MP Andrew Laming and NSW deputy premier John Barilaro have all sued for defamation and both settled out of courtroom or received. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young and former treasurer Joe Hockey have additionally efficiently sued for defamation in the previous.

Dutton even recommended a number of months in the past that politicians ought to have entry to a fund of public cash to pay for defamation instances as a office entitlement.

Yet regardless of Morrison calling social media a “coward’s palace”, in every of those instances the politicians have been suing somebody who put their title to their statements.

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