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Proposed Bill to strengthen defamation laws for the digital age

Law legal technology concept.Legal advice online,Internet law.Law and justice concept.Copy space.

In response to the evolving challenges posed by the digital landscape, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government has introduced new defamation laws aimed at providing stronger protections in the digital world. The Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill 2024 (Bill) reflects a growing recognition of the need to update legal frameworks to address the complexities of online communication and safeguard individuals from reputational harm.

The advent of social media and digital platforms has transformed the way information is disseminated, presenting unique challenges in the realm of defamation. With the proliferation of online content, individuals are increasingly vulnerable to false or damaging statements that can spread rapidly and have far-reaching consequences. Recognising these challenges, the Bill aims to modernise defamation laws by making it easier to remove or correct defamatory content from online spaces.

Key provisions of the new laws include expanded definitions of defamation to encompass online communication and the introduction of measures to hold digital platforms accountable for defamatory content hosted on their platforms. These changes aim to provide individuals with greater recourse in cases of online defamation, empowering them to protect their reputations and seek redress for harm caused by false or malicious statements.

Other key amendments include:

  • Certain “passive” digital intermediaries, including email, caching and storage services, will be exempted from liability for defamatory content published using their service, provided that the digital intermediary did not take any active steps to publish the content (such as editing or promoting it)
  • Search engines will be exempt from liability for automatically generated search results containing defamatory material, provided that the search engine did not promote or favour the content for commercial benefit
  • A new ‘innocent dissemination’ defence will be introduced for digital intermediaries, such as hosts of websites or social media pages. The defence will operate so that intermediaries cannot be sued for content posted by third parties, provided that they offer a simple complaints process for members of the public and act within seven days to take down content that is allegedly defamatory
  • Courts will be granted a new power to make orders against non-party digital intermediaries (for example website or platform host), requiring them to prevent access to defamatory matters online

For a full reading of the media release, see here.

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