Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill
The Australian Government is committed to keeping all Australians safe from online harm. Defamatory posts on social media can spread virally across the platform, with much of the content being unfiltered. Such posts are often made anonymously, which makes it challenging to pursue defamation proceedings against the perpetrator, especially for ordinary Australians.
High Court's Voller decision
The challenges of responding to defamation on social media became clear after the High Court's decision in Fairfax Media Publications v Voller  HCA 27, handed down in September 2021. The Voller decision shows that Australians who maintain a social media page may be exposed to defamation liability for defamatory posts that others make on their page – even if they are not aware of the posts.
To urgently address this situation the Australian Government has developed the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022. To address the implications of the Voller decision, the Bill will protect Australians from defamation liability that could arise if they allow users to post on their social media page.
Identifying anonymous posters
The Bill is also an important part of the government's commitment to protecting Australians from online harms. It will empower Australians to 'unmask' the originators of anonymous defamatory posts made on social media, where the material is posted in Australia. In doing so, the Bill will seek to centre defamation disputes on the relationship between the victim and the author of the defamatory post.
Where social media services establish and comply with a complaints scheme that allows the poster’s contact details to be disclosed with consent, or comply with court orders requiring them to provide contact details, the provider of the service will have access to a conditional defence from defamation liability.
If the poster cannot be identified, the Bill will enable victims to treat the provider of the social media service as a publisher for the purpose of potential defamation proceedings.
House Select Committee
The government has established a House Select Committee to inquire into social media and online safety.
The committee is scrutinising the issues the Bill addresses and the measures it contains. Appropriately, it is doing so in the broader context of anonymous online defamatory posts, online harms and effective protections against them.
The committee is scheduled to provide its final report to the Parliament on 15 March 2022.
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
On 10 February 2022, the Senate referred the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry.
The committee is scheduled to provide its final report to the Parliament by 24 March 2022.
State and territory reform process
Through the Meeting of Attorneys-General, the Australian Government is already working alongside states and territories to review defamation laws to ensure they remain fit for purpose in the digital age.
The Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 is a targeted, balanced measure that complements the existing work being progressed in partnership with states and territories on defamation reform. It seeks to strike a balance between the very important progress that we are making with states and territories, and the urgent need for reform for the benefit of Australian businesses and individuals who maintain an ordinary social media presence.
Background to states and territories reform process
Defamation is a tort at general law, which is affected primarily by state and territory legislation. Recognising the need for uniformity, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General endorsed the enactment of Model Defamation Provisions in each state and territory in November 2004. Between 2005 and 2006, all states and territories enacted defamation laws based on the Model Defamation Provisions.
On 8 June 2018, the Council of Attorneys-General reconvened a Defamation Working Party to review the Model Defamation Provisions. The working party is progressing reform of the Model Defamation Provisions in two stages.
Stage 1, completed in July 2020, focused on reviewing the Model Defamation Provisions to ensure their policy objectives remain valid and to update the provisions to ensure they are appropriate.
Stage 2, currently in progress, is focusing on the responsibilities and liability of digital platforms for defamatory content published online.
At its meeting on 12 November 2021, the Meeting of Attorneys-General agreed that the Stage 2 Review of the Model Defamation Provisions should remain a priority in 2022.
Submissions on the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill were invited until 21 January 2022. The consultation period has now closed.
For questions about the Bill, email the Defamation Taskforce at Defamation@ag.gov.au.