Trashing the trolls

June 13, 2012 10:45 am

Internet trolls beware: new legislation forces websites to reveal IP addresses of anyone posting offensive content

From Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore to fairy tales (Three Billy Goats Gruff, anyone?) and Harry Potter, trolls have long been depicted as being hideous, ugly, vindictive, morally abhorrent but fundamentally cowardly creatures who like to live in the dark and prey on purer beings.

Small wonder, then, that the name has been applied to the people who go out of their way to cause offence and distress on the Internet by posting vicious online and social media content.

It is, of course, the anonymity that makes the vast majority of Internet trolls feel brave enough to go out of their way to cause distress or hound people just for the hell of it.

So it will be interesting to see how much of this forced bravado remains amongst the UK’s population of moral cesspit-dwellers following the introduction of new laws that forces websites to reveal the IP address of anyone posted offensive material so they can be prosecuted.

The legislative change has come about after British woman Nicola Brookes was granted a court order making Facebook reveal the IP addresses of the people who had been abusing her through malicious online content, falsely portraying her as a drug dealer and paedophile.

Implications for content marketing

As well as making it easier for individuals to gain justice and recompense from the disturbed and downright nasty (and, potentially, making trolling far less of a problem in general), the British Defamation Bill changes have implications for content providers – particularly companies that encourage interaction and conversations with customers as part of a social media and content marketing strategy.

In legal terms, every time a website featuring a defamatory article is visited is currently counted as a separate offence. Which means websites invariably remove articles as soon as a defamation claim is made, regardless of whether or not the claim is accurate.

Ken Clarke says content marketers will benefit from the new British legislation

‘Website operators are in principle liable as publishers for everything that appears on their sites, even though the content is often determined by users,’ UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the BBC.

‘But most operators are not in a position to know whether the material posted is defamatory or not and very often – faced with a complaint – they will immediately remove material.

‘Our proposed approach will mean that website operators have a defence against libel as long as they identify the authors of allegedly defamatory material when requested to do so by a complainant.

‘The government wants a libel regime for the Internet that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively but also ensures that information online can’t be easily censored by casual threats of litigation against website operators.

‘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.’

The new laws will apply to any website, regardless of where it is hosted, but claimants would have to show that the UK is the right place to bring action.

It will be interesting to see if any other governments follow suit to beat the trolls in the interests of their own citizens – and companies for whom content marketing is an essential practice.

 

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