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Internet trolls targeted in defamation shakeup

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Websites could soon be forced to identify internet users known as 'trolls', who post defamatory messages about others on websites and social networks.

The government is considering whether people have the right to know who has posted malicious messages about them without the need for legal action.

However, any claims will be carefully balanced by measures that stop people from making false claims against websites in order to get material taken down.

There have been various cases recently of people being hounded with false and defamatory claims about them online, in a new form of harassment.

Last week, British woman Nicola Brookes won a court order forcing Facebook to reveal the identity of trolls who had falsely branded her a paedophile and drug dealer.

Facebook will now disclose the IP address of the users involved so that she can pursue prosecutions.

The draft Defamation Bill includes measures to make this process less time-consuming and costly.

Justice secretary Ken Clarke said that the proposed measures would trigger an end to "scurrilous rumour and allegation" being distributed online without fear of consequences.

"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," he said.

"It will be very important to ensure that these measures do not inadvertently expose genuine whistleblowers, and we are committed to getting the detail right to minimise this risk."

The bill also says that any websites that comply with requests to reveal the identity of users will be handed greater protection from being sued in the event of a defamation claim.

Under current rules, websites are liable for every time users click on a potentially defamatory article, meaning they often quickly take down material as soon as a claim is made.

This means that material is removed from the web, whether it is ultimately found to be defamatory or not.

"Website operators are in principle liable as publishers for everything that appears on their sites, even though the content is often determined by users," said Clarke.

"But most operators are not in a position to know whether the material posted is defamatory or not and very often - faced with a complaint - they will immediately remove material.

"Our proposed approach will mean that website operators have a defence against libel as long as they identify the authors of allegedly defamatory material when requested to do so by a complainant."

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