Internet trolls have taken over the web. On nearly every website that allows comments seemingly anonymous posters can be found spewing vile, hateful, and downright disrespectful messages. Here at CLUTCH we know a thing or two about trolls who pop up not to share in a constructive discussion, but to derail a thread, attack readers, and spread hate.
While free speech precedents protect most trolls, a new UK law aims to hold offenders responsible for their hate speech.
The law, proposed by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, would require websites to turn over the identities of trolls to law enforcement agencies so they can be held accountable for their libelous speech. If the websites refuse, they will be held responsible and may face fines or legal action.
Internet companies will be expected to agree to rules over how to deal with libellous comments posted on their sites.
They will be told that – provided they agree to hand over the identity of the abuser to their victim – the internet company itself will be protected from legal action by the victim of abuse.
If they refuse, however, they could be hauled before the courts and fined thousands of pounds for the hateful comments, even though they were made by a visitor to their website.
Officials believe the prospect of protection from a defamation case will be enough of a ‘carrot’ for the likes of Twitter and Facebook to agree to the new regime.
It will finally help to bring to an end the injustice of victims being subject to sickening online abuse – often from those they have never met – with little chance of finding out who is responsible.
In future, they will be able to use the names and email addresses of their tormentors to bring a prosecution for libel.
The proposed law would include a one-year time limit so that old articles or comments cannot trigger lawsuits.
The Daily Mail points to a case that may have benefitted from the new law. After making a supportive comment about an X Factor contestant, Nicola Brookes was bombarded with hateful messages and death threats. After going to local police to complain, she was turned away and sued Facebook to find out the identities of her harassers. She won, but proponents of this law claims it would have saved Brookes thousands of dollars and made it easier for her to track down her harassers.
Opponents of the law claim it compromises free speech and may open the door to frivolous lawsuits. They also say the law will be unenforceable if posters use software that masks their IP addresses and allows them to browse completely anonymously.
What do you think of the law? Is it a good start or an overreaction?