Proposed legislation to impose record high fines for trolls

By 8 February, 2021 No Comments

The Federal Government has recently announced that it will soon be introducing harsh penalties for individuals who participate in online trolling and for companies who are found to be allowing it to occur.

With trolling and cyberbullying incidents unfortunately increasing with the rapid popularity on social media, the Federal Government is seeking to introduce the Online Safety Bill 2020 (Cth) to better protect potential online victims from the harmful and often, long-lasting effects of trolling and cyber-bullying.

The proposed legislation aims to protect potential victims from offensive trolling behaviours including threats, harassment, intimidating and name-calling, emphasising the unlawfulness of these behaviours in the online environment, as they are considered when face-to-face.

These harsh penalties include large fines, imposed obligations for large social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram to remove any offensive content posted within 24 hours, as well as allowing the government greater powers to help identify perpetrators as quickly as possible.

Key Takeaways

  • The Federal Government is seeking to enforce the Online Safety Bill 2020 (Cth) which includes harsh penalties to deter trolls and thus prevent harm to their potential victims, including fines of up to:
    • $111,000 for individuals; and
    • $555,000 for companies.
  • The legislation ensures that large social platforms remove any offensive content posted within 24 hours of receiving a ‘Remove Notice’ (instead of the current 48 hour deadline), and allows the government and eSafety Commissioner new powers to reveal identities of offenders using pseudonyms and fake profiles.

Definition of ‘Trolling’

Although ‘trolling’ is not currently defined within Australian law, the Online Safety Bill 2020 makes it illegal to post “seriously harmful content on websites and social media” which includes death threats, revenge porn and malicious comments with the intent to shame, offend, humiliate and harm. Trolling behaviour may have an extreme effect on individuals, leaving them distraught and panicked, which can be further distressing as perpetrators are able to communicate with the victim anonymously when in an online environment.

The Proposed Legislation

If passed, the new laws will establish greater protections to help keep Australians safe online. The proposed legislation will enforce large fines of up to $555,000 on companies who fail to remove severely harmful content within 24 hours (they currently only need to remove content within 48 hours), following the receipt of a ‘Remove Notice’. The government and the eSafety Commissioner will also gain new powers over obtaining information from social media platforms regarding individual users who can be fined up to $111,000, in the event perpetrators are using pseudonyms and anonymous profiles, or where violent or terrorist content is being posted. The eSafety Commissioner will also be granted the power to reveal the identities of profiles spreading harmful content, thus also providing greater protection for adults. 

The draft Bill has now been released and submissions are accepted until 14 February 2021. Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts explained that if everything goes smoothly, this substantial legislation may become law very soon.

Protecting your Business

It is vital that businesses are aware and responsive to trolling behaviour. If your business has a Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram account that has been trolled, you are encouraged to report these posts to the platform’s administrator, as well as to the police. Under this new legislation, social media platforms must remove these posts and face these penalties if they do not comply.

Pragma’s Lawyers can provide advice to you and your business to minimise your risk. Contact us today by clicking here or call us (08) 6188 3340.