The Federal Government today announced new legislation that will be put before parliament that sets out to clearly define who is the publisher of online social media comments, and to try to put an end to the use of anonymous accounts for trolling and defamatory online comments.

While the legislation is only at the announcement stage, and is set to be put to parliament, debated and likely amended – this is a shot across the bow from the Federal Government to the largest tech and social media companies in the world.

A lot of this comes from a recent high court decision which put the title of “publisher” onto the person or company which manages a page where a third party might have left defamatory comments.

Let’s put this in real terms. EFTM has a Facebook page. If someone posts a comment on an EFTM Facebook post and that comment is defamatory, the onus as publisher falls onto EFTM. Problematically, EFTM doesn’t have a full time 24/7 staff of Social Media managers who can see every comment in real-time and delete them if deemed inappropriate.

For us, we’re small, that’s not a huge issue. But for a large media company, or a large and popular personality or product page on social media, the High Court decision puts a huge weight on the shoulders of that team.

This new Government legislation deems the Social Media company as the publisher, and puts the onus onto the Social Media company to put in place a mechanism where the identity of an “anonymous user” can be provided for the purpose of legal action against users.

If a Social Media company is unable to provide that information, they will be deemed the publisher, and liable.

This is a very top line view of the just announced legislation, but let me say this – it’s a great start.

We have expectations of privacy, safety, and security in the physical world, why wouldn’t we have the same in the online world.

It will be early next year before this gets close to being presented to parliament, and no doubt many concerns around protections of whistleblowers, and mis-use of the mechanisms to identify users will be raised – hopefully then debated, and amended to suit the desired outcome – to stop online trolls.

I’ve got my own views on how this could be done, and will share those soon.