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Facebook should be liable for defamatory anonymous comments, Australian PM says

“Cowards who go anonymously on to social media and vilify people, and harass them, and bully them, and engage in defamatory statements, they need to be responsible for what they’re saying,” Scott Morrison said.

Facebook should be liable for defamatory anonymous comments, Australian PM says
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is calling for Facebook to be held liable for comments posted anonymously on the platform. Describing social media as a “coward’s palace,” Morrison warned that digital platforms including Facebook should be held liable for defamatory comments written by anonymous users. 

In a speech on Thursday, Morrison took aim at anonymous commentators who use social media platforms to attack others. His remarks are the latest volley amid the ongoing battle between the Australian government and Facebook. 

As reported by Rebel News in February, Australia passed a bill requiring Facebook and Google to pay for news after striking a deal with the Big Tech companies. The move came after Facebook temporarily banned Australians from accessing and sharing news on the platform. 

Morrison’s government wants Facebook to require social media users to identify, and effectively deanonymize themselves. In his speech, Morrison said platforms that do not reveal the identities of anonymous users who post defamatory comments should be held liable for those comments, the Associated Press reported. 

“Cowards who go anonymously on to social media and vilify people, and harass them, and bully them, and engage in defamatory statements, they need to be responsible for what they’re saying,” Morrison said.

“Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity,” he added.

Morrison seemed to imply that the vast majority of online toxicity originates from anonymous commenters, never mind the fact that the loudest and most toxic individuals on social media platforms like Twitter are often verified and have their photographs attached to their public profiles.

Several of the most popular accounts on Twitter, including DefiantL’s and Siraj Hashmi, are dedicated to highlighting the toxicity of verified users, many of whom are political commentators.

The AP reports:

His comments come as Australian state and territory governments are rushing to rewrite their defamation laws after the High Court last month set a precedent for the internet age, ruling that media outlets can be held liable for defamatory comments posted by third parties on their Facebook pages.

The court didn’t rule on whether Facebook was also liable because the platform wasn’t being sued.

The precedent applies to the administrators of all Facebook pages, including governments. The Tasmania state government has blocked comments from its social media sites, and the U.S. news organization CNN has excluded Australians from its Facebook page.

Australia’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, says that the national review of defamation laws will look at whether Facebook should be liable for user’s posts. 

In response to the Australian government, Facebook said it supported “modernization of Australia’s uniform defamation laws, and hopes for greater clarity and certainty in this area.”

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  • By Avi Yemini

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