Australian PM Scott Morrison challenges Facebook to back anti-troll defamation law

The Facebook and Meta logos
The company's purchase of Giphy is also under scrutiny by UK regulators. Photo credit: Getty Images

Facebook will show it has no interest in making the online world safe if it quits Australia over laws holding it liable for defamation on its platform, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said.

In the latest of several attempts to hold global internet companies to greater account for content on their platforms, Australia plans to make them share the identities of people with anonymous accounts if another person accuses them of defamation.

If the social media company fails to give that information, it must assume legal liability. The proposed law would also make social media operators legally responsible for defamatory comments beneath publishers' posts on their platforms.

Asked on TV station Nine News if he was worried Facebook might quit Australia over the new law, Morrison said doing that "would be an admission that they have no interest in making the online world safe".

It was not free speech "to hide in your basement as a masked troll and abuse and harass and stalk people," Morrison said.

"If you want to say something, then you should say who you are, and if the social media company lets you do that with a mask on, then we'll hold them to account."

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment. The company, which has renamed its parent entity Meta, has previously said it could not reasonably be expected to monitor all comments on its website for defamation, and that it often has less access to users' pages than the users themselves.

Representatives for Twitter and YouTube, which is owned by Google, declined to comment.

Twitter has said it routinely cooperates with legal requests for user identities, but that it values the importance of protecting whistleblowers.

In February, global social media companies threatened to quit Australia over laws making them pay media outlets for content appearing on their websites.

That standoff culminated in Facebook cutting all third-party content from Australian accounts for more than a week, before it resumed its service and struck deals to pay media providers.

Meanwhile, the UK competition regulator is expected to block Meta's acquisition of online GIF platform Giphy in the coming days, the Financial Times reported.

The Competition and Markets Authority is set to reverse the deal in what would be the first time the watchdog has reversed a Big Tech acquisition, the report said, citing individuals close to the matter.

Meta and the regulator did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters sent outside working hours.

The regulator had in October fined the US social media giant Facebook, now Meta, NZ$98.6 million for breaching an order that was imposed during an investigation into its purchase of  Giphy. 

Facebook bought the GIF platform, a website for making and sharing animated images, or GIFs, in May last year to integrate it with its photo-sharing app, Instagram. The deal was then pegged at US$400 million by Axios.