back to article Australia will force social networks to identify trolls, so they can be sued for defamation

Australia's government has announced it will compel social media companies to reveal the identities of users who post material considered defamatory. Prime minister Scott Morrison phrased the planned legislation as creating a power "to unmask anonymous online trolls". The effect of the planned law will be to put social …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Down with anonymous cowards!

    Especially those uppity shites that exploit the site to give their posts a silver badge instead of the proper AC icon.

    (Inserts the joke icon since the folks with sense of humour deficiencies will downvote this to hell if I don't make it clear.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

      Do up/down votes on Anonymous Coward posts count towards your El Reg badge metrics? Asking for a friend.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

        Supposedly they do not, the rules say they do not, but then my current totals wouldn't be nearly as large as they are at present if that were true.

        I'm the original AC that posted this TLP in the first place and I saw my vote total climb accordingly to the five upvotes I had when I posted this reply.

        Of course, now that I've said that, I may wake up to find my account zeroed out, my badge stripped, & my status demoted to that of a freshly registered & yet to earn a bronze badge newbie.


        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

          Could be worse. You could wake up and find that you're in Australia.

          1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

            Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

            I loved the old days of "social media"in Australia, just sitting at the bar with a bottle of wine talking with people and the next day at a church talking with people and eating a cake after the service while the guy I was talking with explained that he'd left Ireland because the cops were after him for his IRA actions. But we were at the church lunch and both comfortable with each other - back in the UK that would probably not have been the case and these days on social media everyone would be shouting.

          2. julian.smith

            Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

            Please post your location which is superior to Australia

            (not perfect but probably better than the racist, covid infested dump where you live)

            Covid cumulative death rate per Million

            US: 2,223

            UK: 2,218

            OZ: 77

            We are fortunate that, whilst our Stasti-aspiring, traitorous "security" services have big ambitions, their poltical masters are at the "Australian law trumps mathematics" level.

            We understand VPN's and despise tossers like Scotty from Hillsong


          3. kiwimuso

            Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

            " of a mass murder committed by a racist attacker in New Zealand."

            And rather ironically, that racist attacker was an Australian national.

            I'm not casting any nasturtiums at other lovely Aussie people, some of whom I am even friends with.

            I wasn't sure what icon to use. I was going to use the Joke Alert but it certainly was not a joke.

            Just to complete the picture, Oz is now deporting so-called criminals back to NZ even if they have spent their whole life in Oz. I say so-called because some of them had not even been convicted of anything, but were deemed to be "keeping undesirable company". Mostly "bikies" and/or gang members.

            A number of them have absolutely no ties with NZ other than being born here, (anything up to 50 or 60 years ago) so torn apart from their whole family.

            Whilst I don't condone what they may or may not have done, deportation sounds like "cruel and unusual" punishment to me.

            So the upshot is, that we have the cost of keeping the "racist attacker" in jail for the duration, while they manage to palm off their own crims on us.

            I think they though that the deportation from England which started off the Oz colonies was a blueprint.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

          "I'm the original AC that posted this TLP in the first place"

          So you say...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

          No I'm the original anonymous coward.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

          Like my account did - badge stripped entirely, my crime? highlighting that a certain UK ISP has bad tech support and the worst culprits in my own experience were male staff from a certain ethnic group, for lack of knowledge and making up any old twaddle to get you off the phone.

          Which someone here took as racist....when its a factual observation in regards to their attitudes and approach to dealing with customers, its like they see not knowing something as a sign of weakness and would rather flat out lie than say "I'm sorry I don't know the answer to that question, can I look into it and come back to you later today or tomorrow?"

          The other option is that said ISP is on friendly terms with someone at vulture towers, particularly as their reputation everywhere else is in the toilet, and their positive reviews online seem rather....unauthentic

          Won't be surprised if my account is suddenly locked after this....

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

          Re "I'm the original AC that posted this TLP in the first place ".

          No. I'm Spartacus, and so is my wife..

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

      I predict a rise in the theft of real names/credentials in order to use online, and let somebody else handle the troll rap.

      VPN's such as Windscribe etc, will be next on the list.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Down with anonymous cowards!

      "(Inserts the joke icon since the folks with sense of humour deficiencies will downvote this to hell if I don't make it clear.)"

      You can't have the joke icon AND be an Anonymous Coward - it's either one or the other. But in any case - if people don't get irony, fuck em, and wear their downvotes with pride.

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    The ultimate nanny state

    Australia even outdoes California, and that is quite the high bar to clear.

    [proudly wearing my Prop 65 cancer-warning t-shirt - honestly I bought a carpenter's square that had a prop 65 warning on it this weekend - and I'm not kidding]

    1. Notas Badoff

      Re: The ultimate nanny state

      Ah, legislation with details to be ironed out later. I'm thinking of Ireland and their anti-abortion legislation. Doctor's and nurses and hospitals so afraid of being jailed they let pregnant women die. Repeatedly.

      Last I think I heard, the legislators finally realized being proven as baby killers was bad PR, and rescinded some of the legislation. Or was it a referendum on common sense that happened?

      But still, common sense comes second in legislation, and often very much later.

    2. EricB123 Bronze badge

      Re: The ultimate nanny state

      As did a mechanical pencil I bought in California as well.

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: The ultimate nanny state

      a carpenter's square that had a prop 65 warning on it

      I'm probably being a bit slow as it's a cold Monday, but just how does a carpenter's square cause cancer? (I'm presuming it excludes physically forcing it where it shouldn't go.)

    4. hayzoos

      Re: The ultimate nanny state

      Funny, I brought up Prop 65 idiocy just yesterday. I pointed out that California tourism ads encouraging people to visit sunny California does NOT have a Prop 65 cancer warning. Does California not know that overindulgence in Sun bathing causes cancer. I bet the sunscreen has Prop 65 cancer warnings though.

    5. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: The ultimate nanny state

      I agree, but Australia seems to be something of a pit-canary for unpopular Authoritarian policy in the west. Australia does things that would cause riots in the UK, US and EU. But where they go, we all eventually follow.

      RIPA: Happened in Australia first. Then Jacqui Smith introduced it to the UK.

      Detention without charge if suspected of terrism. Hostile Environment. Slurping of medical records.

      ID cards will be next. Then a ban on encryption. Then this.

      P65 is easier to administer if you just slap it on everything. Your carpenter's square probably contained a high dose of Iron. If you swallow enough iron filings you will probably get cancer. Oh and if it's steel then it may contain a small amount of cobalt, a tiny fraction of which is radioactive!!!1

  3. fredesmite2

    Does this mean

    I have to come up with more fake profiles.?

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: Does this mean

      > fredesmite2

      Vege? Is that you?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does this mean

      Easier to snaffle somebody else's online account and use that to troll with.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge

    Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

    He has an election next year, he is worried. At the moment he’s trying to appeal to his base. He’s not travelling well, most of his schemes have come to naught recently. As the election gets closer then announcements will become bolder and crazier.

    “Scotty from marketing” is a desperate man.

    - Regged AC

    1. Dagg Silver badge

      Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

      Totally agree, I don't trust him or his government.

      Here in australia the politicians can troll as much as they want they are covered under what they call "Parliamentary privilege".

      This ability "to unmask anonymous online trolls" means they can go after the whistle blowers etc that show just how corrupt and incompetent the government is.

      Scotty from marketing is trying to use this so he can ignore his promise to create an integrity commission as the last thing he wants is anyone looking too closely at many of things that he and his government have done.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

        I thought you'd have to be looking closely to find anything they'd actually* done.

        * holidaying in Hawaii excluded

    2. Totally not a Cylon

      Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

      Is this the same Aussie 'Politician' who declared that Australia's laws over ruled the 'Laws of Mathematics'?

      Or are they breeding more of them?

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

        That was Malcolm Turnbull. Oz does seem to have a breeding program.

      2. julian.smith
        Big Brother

        Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

        No - that was Malcolm Turnbull (Catholic), previously a leading barrister and later merchant banker

        - far smarter than Scotty from Hillsong, a previous Minister for Cruelty (think chldren in concentration camps @$4 million pa per "person)".

        Christian charity in action.

        Electing that corrupt, lying turd shows that Australians are not the sharpest tools in the shed

    3. the Jim bloke

      Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

      Scomo is desperately searching for relevance, with an upcoming election. Owning a bogan nickname sufficed to get him the last one, but the opposition have fielded 'Albo' to counter that ploy, and the voters have had a few years to find out that behind Scomo's facade, there's...well, nothing.

      His greatest success was early in dealing with the pandemic, and it is officially described as forming a national cabinet - where in real terms it was passing all responsibility to the state governments. If the Commonwealth had kept responsibility for quarantine - the way they are supposed to - it would have been a disaster. His strategy is inaction ( with a catchy slogan).

      It now looks like his political party are loading all their sins onto him, so he can be sacrificed and the rest of them appear clean and innocent. the term is scapegoat.

    4. batfink

      Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

      The latest I hear from my Oz contacts is that apparently China is about to declare war on them. It must be true, it's in the papers and Sixty Minutes said so as well.

      Nothing to do with scaremongering in advance of the election then...

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

        So China is going to attack Australia until most of it is a deserted waste land? Tough job that.

      2. julian.smith

        Re: Scott Morrison, Australia’s leading political troll

        Recently, driving west from Streaky Bay, we saw a military contingent practising, with tanks, on a large reserved area. There were about 50 personnal and a couple of tanks. I'm sure the Chinese were quaking in their boots.

        If that doesn't frighten them, the 8 submarines to be delivered in 25 years time (current estimate) will terrify them.

        Security posturing to piss off your biggest customer - ask the crayfish exporters whose market was vapourised or Penfolds who lost a $AUD 3 billion pa wine market - what could possibly go wrong?

  5. eldakka


    Attorney-general Michaelia Cash argued that ruling leaves any Australian organisation at the mercy of trolls who, by posting defamatory content to an organisation's social media presence, could smear their target but leave the organisation liable for their comments.
    On the basis that the judgement found them liable, then doesn't this mean that maybe they should moderate their social media presence if they are afraid of this? Pre-moderate all posts, problem solved.

    Oh, wait, it'll cost them money to do that? My heart bleeds. If the law (as it stands) says you can be liable for defamatory posts on your site/page (no CDA 230 equivalent), then you need to take the appropriate reasonable steps to prevent libellous material from being posted.

    1. the Jim bloke

      Re: Huh?

      In a perfect world - as envisaged by me - users get to sue social media organisations, who then get to sue posters of offensive content.

      Viewers cannot sue posters, there is no chance of success there, so they must act against the agent of the poster, which is the social media org. The social media org has a relationship with the poster, which they can follow up to achieve redress. If its too hard - its their system, fix it.

      There would be lawyers involved sadly, to ensure complaints weren't false or frivolous, but requirements should not be too high as the intent is to encourage social media orgs to do some damned quality control, and the public is doing them a service by pointing out where they are fucking up.

    2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      Pre-moderate all posts, problem solved.

      No, that is not a solution, Any organisation forced to pre-moderate posts will just disable posting altogether. It is much too expensive to pre-moderate and there is very little benefit in it for a news organisation. Even El Reg do not pre-moderate (except on some particularly contentious topics) - and they are (fortunately for us) trying to encourage a community.

      Nor does your local, friendly village forum. They rely on other people to flag inappropriate comments and only review those. They couldn't afford that if there was legal liability. They would just be forced to close the comments altogether.

      1. fxkeh

        Re: Huh?

        The obvious compromise - that perhaps they're aiming for - is to leave social networks responsible for *only* the truly anonymous posts, so the posts by users that can be identified don't have to be. I.e. if you want to allow anonymous posts, you're responsible for moderating the content; if you don't want to moderate all the content, you'll need to ID your users.

        Leaving aside the practicalities of how sites will actually ID users, and companies that have no Australian presence for them to (en)force their laws on.

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: Huh?

          That is what they claim is a fix. But it absolutely isn't. The "choice" is made by the wrong people for the law to work.

          Either the site allows anonymous users, or it does not. If it does allow them then very many comments will be from anonymous users and you are back to, in practice, having to moderate everything or almost everything. So sites just have to ban anonymity.

          The proposal is just a scam: the idea of the "compromise" seems initially reasonable but it quickly becomes obvious that the proposal is just a ban on anonymity. We must not let people proposing this get away with pretending that they are not banning anonymity!

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    "Road to Hell is paved with good intentions"

    I can get the motives for that law, but the implementation is chinese liberticide.

    There's an easy way if you get trolled on social media: quit them.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: "Road to Hell is paved with good intentions"

      I was on the cusp of up-voting you - until your last sentence.

  7. Dr Scrum Master

    Society, Social Media and the Law

    No, it's not the title of an academic paper.

    Society, social media and the law still haven't worked out how to live together. The benefit of social media is that it brings people together. The threat of social media is that it brings people together: paedophiles, terrorists, loud-mouthed gits, idiotic teenagers, conspiracy theorists, etc. Then legislators do the one thing that they know how to do, and that is to legislate (when we already have libraries full of statutes that the police barely take any notice of). I don't know what the solution is, but legislation is rarely the right answer.

    1. ICL1900-G3

      Re: Society, Social Media and the Law

      Agreed. Somebody should tell the frightful Patel woman.

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Society, Social Media and the Law

      > The threat of social media is that it brings people together: paedophiles, terrorists, loud-mouthed gits, idiotic teenagers, conspiracy theorists, etc.

      You missed "demagogues" off the list.

  8. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Important ambiguities?

    "Application of the term troll is subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. "

    "In internet slang, a troll is a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community"

    [both quotes from Wikipedia]

    The first quote seems self explanatory, given the breadth of the definition in the second. I wonder what definition will be used in AUS.

    1. batfink

      Re: Important ambiguities?

      Does that mean we're going to have to use /sarc tags explicitly now?

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Important ambiguities?

      > I wonder what definition will be used in AUS?

      Disagreeing with the government (or their owners, the "traditional media").

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UK has a bit of a reputation for 'libel tourism' where foreign nationals sue other foreign nationals for megabucks over some slight published in an obscure journal

    Looks like Oz is trying to drive our legal eagles out of business... no chance, they would just sue Scotty for trying to take away their livelihood

  10. quattroprorocked

    Basically, our own, much ignored Internet Defamation Act 2013

    All sites are required to get the poster to supply info to permit legal action.

    If poster doesn't, post must be deleted, OR site/platform becomes liable.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Snowy Silver badge

    Another go at Juice Media

    They had a go at them when they tried to outland genuine satire, is this another go at shutting them up?

    A NSFW video (swearing)

    As for:

    <quote>The other win came with a law that requires Facebook and Google to pay local news publishers for the right to link to their content (Indonesia's government last week floated laws based on Australia's). Both Facebook and Google protested, vociferously, that the proposal was unworkable before eventually backing it.</quote>

    I think from this video it was not so much a win ( NSFW as sucking up for News Corps or Rupert Murdoch.

    1. schultzter

      Re: Another go at Juice Media

      I was going to say the same thing. I wish The Register, off all news outlets, would stop repeating the claim that Australia won when they really just handed over the golden goose on a silver platter!

  12. Sandstone

    Definition, Please.

    Who gets to define what is meant by a "defamatory comment?"

  13. Cav Bronze badge

    "The Register expects a similar response this time, as social networks defend users' rights to anonymity, and perhaps mention that China is the only nation that currently requires the use of real names for all online accounts".

    Facebook's own terms and conditions, oft repeated, require the use of "real" names. Real as in the name that you are commonly known by, if not your strictly legal name.

    "Facebook is a community where everyone uses the name they go by in everyday life. This makes it so that you always know who you're connecting with."

    How could they defend users rights to anonymity when they specifically do not support anonymity?

    1. batfink

      So there are no fake accounts on FB? That's a relief.

  14. enchantingquail

    <quote>perhaps mention that China is the only nation that currently requires the use of real names for all online accounts (along with some South Korean websites)</quote>

    Might want to change that to legal since enchantingquail is a real name, but not my legal one. Facebook also fails to make the distinktion.

  15. Ozchemist

    Anonymous - I don't think that word means what you think it means

    The LNP Govt in OZ quite frankly couldn't find their own backsides with both hands and a searchlight. And proposed legislation like this shows just how far out of touch they are with the reality of "managing" social media interactions.

    Most social media account requirements for "real names" are easily circumvented if that's what you wish to do - so legislation like this really only catches the unprepared or unaware. If you wanted to set up to anonymously defame a member of parliament, or anyone else for that matter, then the process is relatively trivial.

    Better still, don't just do it anonymously, do it automatically!

    Conduct all transactions via VPN / TOR

    Set up an appropriately anonymised Twitter / Facebook account outside of your country of origin (international legal exchanges are much more interesting to watch).

    Write a bot script -

    "Select name of politician/person you dislike from list"

    "Append appropriate controversial comment - cross reference to their Twitter feed / Facebook page to see most recent stupid posting / controversial action"

    "Append final disparaging remark"

    "Repost to anonymised Twitter / Facebook feed"

    Rinse/repeat for the political party / etc of your choice.

    Preferably include "pointers" to offshore "bad actors" as a potential original source of the tweet / post - SCOMO and Co love blaming off-shore sources.

    Sit back - watch fun.

  16. The Central Scrutinizer

    Scotty from marketing is a true political idiot. He even lies about saying things he has actually said, when there is video footage of him saying them, multiple times.

    There will be an election here next year, so he's shit talking about all sorts of stuff now, like requiring voters to provide ID to vote, despite there being virtually NO voter fraud in Australia. He's borrowing from the Trump playbook to try and stop vulnerable people from voting.

    He is a despicable shit.

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