UK websites might have to identify “trolls”

By EDRi · June 20, 2012

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Deutsch: [Britische Websitenbetreiber sollen „Trolle“ identifizieren |]

According to the new UK government proposals, website operators might
soon have to identify users who have posted defamatory messages online,
so that the victims of the respective messages may take legal action
against the “trolls”.

Presently in UK, a website operator is liable for everything that
appears on its site and therefore it can be taken to court by anybody
who claims something defamatory has been posted about him/her on the
respective website. The websites are now removing content as soon as a
defamation claim is made, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong.

“As the law stands, individuals can be the subject of scurrilous rumour
and allegation on the web with little meaningful remedy against the
person responsible. Website operators are in principle liable as
publishers for everything that appears on their sites, even though the
content is often determined by users,” says Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

The UK Ministry of Justice is now proposing a Defamation Bill, which is
under debate in the House of Commons, that will force operators to
identify the creator of a defamatory message and to give that
information to the victim so that he (she) may take action directly
against the person having posted the defamatory content.

The government states that there will also be measures to strengthen
freedom of speech and prevent false claims meant to get material
removed. “It will be very important to ensure that these measures do not
inadvertently expose genuine whistleblowers, and we are committed to
getting the detail right to minimise this risk,” said Clarke.

The present rule that currently counts each separate viewing of a
controversial web page as a separate defamatory offence will be removed
and a one-year time limit will be introduced to online defamation claims
in order to stop people complaining about old articles.

However, privacy advocates are concerned about the possible abuse that
the new bill might bring forth. Privacy International believes that a
large part of the content posted by online trolls is not actually
defamatory being rather “harassment, invasion of privacy or simply
unpleasant but lawfully-expressed opinion” and is concerned that
“gun-shy website operators will start automatically divulging user
details the moment someone alleges defamation in order to shield
themselves from libel actions”.

“If the choice is between protecting users’ anonymity and avoiding a
potentially costly lawsuit, many small operators are not going to be
overly concerned about whether or not a user has genuinely defamed the
complainant,” said Emma Draper, head of communications at Privacy
International to BBC News.

For the time being, ISPs seem critical to the proposal as they will be
forced to store more information about Internet usage and emails. The
proposal will also force them to block all access to pornography
websites unless customers specifically state otherwise.

Websites to be forced to identify trolls under new measures (12.06.2012)

Victims of internet abuse to get new power to identify ‘trolls’ (12.06.2012)

Q&A: Who are internet trolls – and how is the law changing? (12.06.2012)