Trolls: as pervasive on the web as trojans, dodgy porn and those picture you just knew you should have deleted from your camera. Spouting out abusive comments on chat rooms, social networks and forums, the era of the web troll may soon be coming to an end thanks to a new “Troll Bill” that could name and shame perpetrators.
It’s all been sparked by a British lady called Nicola Brookes. The victim of online tormentors who set up fake accounts in her name and branded her a paedophile, Brooks took Facebook to court, with the social network quickly handing over the details of the offending trolls to quell the tide.
It seemed at first certain to be a one-off occurrence, but set a new precedent for web law in the UK. Now according to the BBC, new government legislation will soon be put in place and added to the Defamation Bill that will require all kinds of websites and social networks to hand over the details of anyone who posts defamatory content online.
Great news? Sort of. On one hand, we’d finally be able to stop those really persistent idiots that ruin our web experience and have previously thought they were safe through cyberspace anonymity.
But on the other, it’s another step towards web censorship, wrestling control away from webmasters who, for the most part throughout the relatively short history of the web, have policed their own communities very well. Will we be afraid to legitimately argue a point with a fellow netizen for fear of being branded a troll, resulting in having the authorities breathing down our necks?
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke reassured the BBC this would not be the case:
“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’s a contentious point. The web is a large, mostly healthy place full of great people and ideas, just like the real world. And just like the real world, a small minority look to ruin everyone else’s fun. But, again just as with new proposed laws in the real world, we have to carefully weigh our online rights against any potential new online laws that may make the web a little less free and a little less open.
We may have to pay a high price to put a stop to online trolls. Is it one really worth paying?
By Gerald Lynch | June 12th, 2012