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SOCIAL TROLLS BE WARNED

Something significant happened recently in the legal world in North Queensland.  A precedent was set to pull vindictive social trolls into line through an NQ restaurant owner suing the anonymous troll for defamation.  You see this restaurateur was clever and hired a private investigator to reveal the person behind the keyboard that was bringing their business into disrepute. Not only did they identify this person, they took their evidence to a law firm, sued them and won.  Now many might think this is the first time this has happened, but it’s not, this is the second legal precedent of its kind to come out of North Queensland.  A number of years ago a certain former City Councillor who was inappropriately targeted by a local unpopular blogger sued him for defamation and won, and the blogger was ordered to pay damages to a significant tune.  I’ve got to say I am so happy our community is leading the way for true justice in this domain, it makes me proud.  I’ve always been an advocate for freedom of speech and freedom to express ones opinion BUT ... I’ve never been a fan of people who viciously and deliberately try and destroy businesses and people's reputations with malicious intent driven by a personal agenda and irrational emotion. 

I have personally been targeted by social media trolls and so have many of my colleagues in business, and speaking from experience it’s not a positive time for anyone.  The reality is, if you’re successful in business or in public life, then you are a target.

I can’t write what I like in the Cairns Life, or broadcast what I like on the local TV or radio station, as there are strict guidelines to prohibit me from doing so and serious legal ramifications should the media outlet allow it to be published if it’s in anyway untruthful or defamatory. So why should social media be any different?  Why should someone be able to write complete untruths, harass, abuse, bully and defame individuals and businesses without any consequence?  

The reality is people are taking their own lives over what people have written about them online.  Words can hurt … A LOT.  We have seen some very high profile people committing suicide as a result of cyberbullying and social media trolling.  This is NOT OKAY!

I worry about my children growing up in a society full of cowardly keyboard warriors.  There’s enough bullies in the real world let alone having to deal with them online as well.  And the sad thing is it doesn’t end when people leave school, or leave work these days, the harassment follows them home and intrudes on their private lives too.  It is a conversation we all need to be having.  Cyberbullying happens to our children everyday, but it is also happening to our co-workers and business owners.  

I do see light at the end of the tunnel with the latest legal ruling however.  Once we have a few cases like this to refer back to, the legal system can start doing its job.  The law in this regard is now finally being tested, by people with the determination and financial backing to do so and I applaud them.  The NQ restaurateurs might have been seeking their own kind of justice in recent months, but I hope they realise that they’ve sought justice on behalf of the majority.

It’s about time online vilification was brought into line with all other media outlets and overseen by appropriate checks and balances, not to hinder freedom of speech, but to ensure that the speech remains objective and truthful.  I think its about time the Commonwealth Government seriously took note.  We have the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).  When will we see the Government legislate for ACMA to also oversee online conduct?  It will save people from their own stupidity in writing complete garbage, and we might just save a few lives in the process.

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