Internet Trolls and The Law
by Hermione Avila - Paralegal
17 June 2012, filed under Ecommerce
When I say troll to you the first thing that springs to mind might be a strange creature living under a bridge, or the fuzzy haired ugly toys that were popular in the 90s. What I am actually referring to are individuals who have taken to abusing others using the internet, especially social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Webmasters have a duty to control what is posted online to an extent but with many sites containing user generated content (including Wikipedia, blogging sites, social media sites and video sharing sites such as Youtube) it is incredibly hard for them to do so. Often, if something is reported as offensive then it will be removed.
Recently a woman called Nicola Brookes won High Court backing when she requested that the identity of so called internet trolls were revealed to her. The “trolls” in question had been abusing her online and making various defamatory remarks about her (including that she was a paedophile and drug dealer). Facebook will now likely have to hand over the IP addresses of the trolls involved so that Ms Brookes can privately prosecute them. An IP address gives the location of the computer on which the “troll” has posted the negative comments.
The new draft bill on defamation, the “Defamation Bill” that has been debated in June intends to give webmasters protection against claims such as libel if they are willing to comply with authorities in identifying the writers of any such defamatory comments posted on their website. Currently the time limits on being able to sue for libel are difficult because defamatory articles written online are often held in online archives, therefore every time an article is accessed and used again it can be seen to reset the publishing date. The new bill will specify that the time limit for bringing a claim runs for a year from the date the article is first published.
Previous defences to posting such libellous comments include “justification and honest comment” will no longer be valid and defences will rely on “honest opinion” and “truthful comment”. Obviously there is room for interpretation here and as the Bill has not yet been passed there are no precedents yet to comment on. However, in today’s society we are relying on social media sites more and more there is likely to be many libel cases springing up in the same nature as Ms Brookes’ case and therefore there will be lots of caselaw to refer to in time!
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