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Bill ‘won’t prevent social media trolling’

The Law Council of Australia has said it believes the best defence against social media defamation is a nationally consistent approach to law reform.

In its submission on the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2021 Exposure Draft, the Law Council has recommended that the Commonwealth Government defer its push to address social media defamation until the comprehensive review of Model Defamation Provisions, which is currently under way, is completed.

“The Commonwealth is to be commended for recognising the urgent need for our laws to keep pace with developments in online publishing, particularly in light of the negative impact trolling has on the lives and wellbeing of so many Australians,” Law Council of Australia President Tass Liveris said.

“While the intentions of this Draft Bill are laudable, it is not likely to achieve the outcomes it seeks and we think there are better alternatives already being investigated.”

The Law Council’s submission notes that, despite its title, the Draft Bill does not address trolling, but rather focuses on defamation.

“Defamation is actually only a very small proportion of what constitutes social media trolling,” Mr Liveris said. “For many reasons, defamation law is likely to be a relatively ineffective mechanism for seeking individual reputational redress and for reducing trolling activity on social media. In practice, the Draft Bill will have very little impact in improving this situation.

“The Model Defamation Provisions review into the liability of internet intermediaries has been a substantial and in-depth process and it has the potential to ensure that reforms to the law of defamation in Australia are developed in a way which is comprehensive, complementary, certain and clear.

“Therefore, the Law Council considers that intervention at the federal level in the law of defamation should not occur until the completion of the Stage 2 Review process and should form part of any package of reforms to the liability of online intermediaries more broadly.”

A Law Council media release said that, following the decision in Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller [2021] HCA 27, it was appropriate to reconsider the circumstances in which internet intermediaries would be liable in defamation for third-party content. The Law Council was generally supportive of reforms to set out more appropriately when social media page owners should be considered publishers of third-party comments.

“The Law Council reiterates its call for the law to place greater onus on the originator of defamatory online material,” Mr Liveris said.

However, the Law Council was concerned that the Draft Bill did not adequately balance competing public interests, might leave victims without recourse and, in certain circumstances, could provide unwarranted complete protection from liability.

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