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‘Coward’s palace’: PM slams social media giants and anonymous trolls

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has slammed social media giants for providing a “coward’s palace” for anonymous trolls to abuse people online, as he foreshadowed a further crackdown on the tech industry.

Mr Morrison took aim at the “lack of accountability” by the tech giants in enabling hate speech, saying the government would be “learning further into this issue”.

“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. Now that’s not a free country where that happens,” Mr Morrison said on Thursday.

“They should have to identify who they are. And, you know, the companies if they’re not going to say who they are, well they’re not a platform anymore they’re a publisher. They’re a publisher, and you know what the implications of that means in terms of those issues.

“People should be responsible for what they say in a country that believes in free speech. That issue is, and the technology that enables it, and the lack of accountability that sits around it, is just not on. You can expect us to be leaning even further into this.”

In a ruling last month, the High Court found in the Voller case that media outlets are legally responsible as “publishers” for third parties’ comments on their Facebook pages even if they were not aware of the comments. The decision has implications for all social media users and particularly those who run pages. It has prompted federal attorney general Michaelia Cash to urge state and territories to pursue urgent defamation law reform, telling the Australian the Voller decision presents a “considerable liability” for all publishers.

Mr Morrison said Australia had led the world in its attempts to regulate the tech giants, passing legislation this year to force Facebook and Google to strike content deals with news organisations. The eSafety commissioner, billed by the government as a world-first agency solely concerned with online safety, was also given beefed-up powers this year to crack down on the tech giants when it comes to stopping trolling and cyber-abuse.

“We intend to set the pace. We value our free society. And in a free society, you can’t be a coward and attack people and expect not to be held accountable for it,” he said.

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