British internet users may soon have an opportunity of meeting those who ‘troll’ them face to face. The parliament is considering a legislation making website operators to identify users posting defamatory comments.
The Defamation Bill is going through the second reading on Tuesday. If put through, the legislation will allow users to take legal actions directly against their online abusers.
If a user claims there is defamatory content being posted about him online, instead of taking action against the website, he can ask the website operator to give them the name of the person who posted the remarks.
Within the legislation the defamatory comment is defined as causing or likely causing “serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.”
Currently, any offensive commentary or libel posted online is in the responsibility of the website operators. The bill will spare them of lawsuits from offended users.
“Our proposed approach will mean that website operators have a defense against libel as long as they identify the authors of allegedly defamatory material when requested to do so by a complainant,” said the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke.
He added that the government wants a libel regime that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively but also ensures that online information cannot be easily censored by casual threats against website operators.
At the same time the bill will strengthen freedom of speech on the internet. It removes the rule stipulating that each separate viewing counts as a separate offence.
The legislation will also introduce a one-year limit to online libel claims in order to stop claims about old articles.
This comes on the back of several cases of online harassment of public figures in the UK. The most public and recent case was that of Frank Zimmerman, who sent a threatening email to MP Louise Mensch and has been banned from contacting her or her husband, as well as 24 other public figures he has been “trolling.”