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Federal Court ruling should make keyboard warriors think twice before posting

A woman has a teeth whitening procedure done

This week, in a landmark ruling, an Australian Federal Court judge granted leave to an Australian dentist to pursue Google in the United States to reveal the identity of a reviewer whom he claims has defamed him.

The dentist, Dr Matthew Kabbabe, wants to sue the creator of the comment for defamation of his teeth whitening business.

The reviewer, named “CBsm 23” posted the procedure was “extremely awkward and uncomfortable” and “a complete waste of time”. They went on to tell readers to “STAY AWAY” from the practice.

As reported in IT News and several other services, Google refused to remove the comment when Kabbabe first approached it in November, likely citing its policy about the need to allow all points of view.

Next, he asked Google for information on the identity of the user so that he could take action directly. Google declined again, stating it did “not have any means to investigate where and when the ID was created”.

Undeterred, Dr Kabbabe took his case to the Federal Court and this week, Justice Bernard Murphy ruled that if Dr Kabbabe was given access to Google’s information about who the reviewer was, he had a shot at proving the review “tended to lower his reputation as a dental surgeon in the opinion of right-thinking members of the community”, which could lead to financial compensation.

Accordingly, he granted leave to Dr Kabbabe to serve the proceeding on Google in the United States.

No word yet on whether Google will challenge the ruling in the US courts.

More information will be revealed on March 25 when a case management hearing is scheduled.

In the meantime, it’s worth pondering the impact that this ruling could have for information security and freedom of speech. If a court can order your identity to be revealed in relation to a comment someone deems offensive, so that their claim can be tested, then all your past online commentary and site visitation could be revealed. Food for thought before posting anything negative.

Additional Sources:

2021 Update

The Federal government announced on Monday the 29th of November that it would put new legislation before the parliament seeking to force social media companies to reveal the identity of posters of negative content that a complainant deems defamatory.

The proposed legislation is a bit short on detail, requiring the social media companies to figure out how to comply for themselves. But in essence, if a post is deemed defamatory by a complainant, the social media company has to ask the original poster to take it down, and if the poster doesn’t comply, then the social media company must divulge their identity so they can be sued by the complainant.

To work successfully, this would require more identifying details of posters to be secured by social media companies. And that’s clearly a threat to profits. So we expect to see much opposition to the law’s enforcement, assuming it gets through the parliament in its current format.

Read more here.

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