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  • Internet, Opinion - Written by on Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:50 - 25 Comments

    Trolling our way to national security

    This article is by technology commentator Geordie Guy. It first appeared on his blog and is licenced under a Creative Commons licence.

    opinion Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph features a call to action – an Internet petition to stop trolling (the media definition of any offensive or deliberately hurtful behaviour online, not the traditional definition). This is both terrible journalism and falling for a trap.

    In the last couple of weeks offensive online behaviour has taken a bit of limelight. First Charlotte Dawson, a host of a reality TV show, was hospitalised seemingly because she was driven to harm herself by a round of online abuse. A few days later rugby league player Robbie Farah was also abused online with taunters targeting the fact he recently lost his mother to cancer. Classy.

    In the wake of the Farah incident NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell publicised that he’d be talking to the Australian Federal Police, which is odd – I was unsure why a premier needs to intervene. I started to become nervous when I saw the Prime Minister had arranged a meeting with Farah to ostensibly discuss “what can be done about the trolls”.

    The bottom line of course is that nothing can be done. Or rather that it’s already been done. Subjecting someone to an outpouring of abuse on Twitter is an offence under S474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 – a law which was originally designed to prohibit nuisance phone calls by regulating behaviour on “a carriage service”.

    Later law and definitions include the Internet as a carriage service so the three year holiday in Long Bay available to anybody who makes offensively harassing and threatening calls is also available to anyone who mounts a Facebook campaign. At the state level there’s also various pieces of legislation, typically designed to prohibit stalking, that make that behaviour illegal. Courts can and have made orders that people not contact other people online or use services that would enable them to do so as a result of them not being able to do it lawfully and civilly.

    The consternation and anxiety about social media companies not cooperating with law enforcement and police is similarly unfounded. Twitter, Facebook, Google et al. routinely remind us that they will always hand over private information to enable law enforcement action on the proviso that it is done properly. Quick phonecall asking for a pseudonymous user’s identity? No. Court order, subpoena, summons or warrant? Absolutely.

    So why is the media doing Kermit arms and howling about “trolls” complete with online polls and government cooperation when the problem (to the extent that people being mean on the Internet is a public policy problem at all) is already solved? Why doesn’t the government simply say “guys, I know it’s hurtful but it’s already illegal and instruments of law enforcement permit the police to do their job as it stands.”?

    The answer is the national security inquiry.

    Yesterday the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon took to YouTube to address outrage at one part of proposals under review at a national security inquiry, in particular the data retention ideas. Her video message – which permitted no comments, feedback or replies and even included a technical measure to forbid it being embedded on another site that did permit discourse – was trying to pour cold water on community outrage about extensive new powers police are seeking.

    The attempts to ram through powers like “streamlining” warrants (read: making it easier for police to just access people’s private lives) have hit several snags on the way through where submissions to the inquiry as well as community consultation and testimony have broadly condemned the proposals as unnecessary and draconian. Effectively the government has a serious problem where law enforcement and spy agencies want almost unlimited power and they’re faced with a community backlash that police powers are sufficient as they stand. What the government needs to win, is community outcry for a problem to be fixed and for the government to show its hands are tied.

    The “troll problem” is a gift-wrapped non-problem that the media has seized on and caused the waves to part between the government and a sweeping range of new police powers. The prime minister meeting Robbie Farah, the communications minister unleashing a spray on talkback radio about how Twitter won’t co-operate unless warrants or orders are produced, this is all reversing the momentum against the power grab. “But we can’t catch terrorists” wasn’t working so now the conversation is “but we can’t catch mean people”.

    I’m profoundly disappointed that the media fell for it. Not fact checking that something wasn’t already illegal before lobbying for its demise under Australia’s online regulatory landscape was guaranteed to be seized on and used by a Government addicted to banning things and passing laws to regulate the Internet. In the coming months we’ll see the vexation move from a celebrity attended media campaign into the inquiry’s consideration, into the bureaucracy, then on to the lower house. I’m hoping that the Opposition will tread on it, but nothing’s certain.

    Image credit: Geordie Guy

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    1. Posted 13/09/2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink | Reply

      To quote the internet : QQ Moar.

      I totally agree Renai, this is a non-event. Not only have they just given professional trolls MORE ammunition than they could ever use, the whole COUNTRY is now being trolled by the internet.

      Rule Number 4 of the Internet – Dont feed the trolls.

      The Daily Telegraph is a tabloid tho, sensationalist headlines are going to be their way of selling rags.

      • PointZeroOne
        Posted 13/09/2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

        “This article is by technology commentator Geordie Guy. It first appeared on his blog and is licenced under a Creative Commons licence.”

    2. Posted 13/09/2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink | Reply

      Terrible journalism, falling for a trap – or genius trolling of their own?

      The correct response to trolls is to ignore them. I look forward to continuing to ignore the Daily Telegraph.

    3. Ferretzor
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink | Reply

      Is what happened to Craig Thompson trolling? Certainly the Oz and various other news outlets gave him and his family a very hard time without much in the way of actual due diligence. It clearly had at least some impact on his mental state, and probably that of his family as well.

      Hell, look at the top of the paper in the pic. Kyle makes a living out of being a troll, how is this different to the twitter type stuff? Well, with the exception that the people Kyle abuses rarely have a chance to be heard in reply, since they can’t just get on the airwaves and tell him to sod off.

      The whole “protect them from themselves” aspect of the Gillard govt is really quite rank.

      Incidentally… going kermit arms… excellent image right there ;)

      • PeterA
        Posted 13/09/2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

        yeah +1 on the kermit arms.

    4. Bob.H
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink | Reply

      Ahhhh but didn’t the Telegraph shoot them selves in the foot when it was revealed that Farah had himself published a dubious tweet about a suitable birthday present for our PM. Pot calling the kettle black it would seem. It was good to also see that most of the online comments to the Telegraph story were opposed to any further regulation.

      If this was a Government attempt to change minds about their proposed internet control laws then it was not a real success and a pretty dismal start to any ongoing campaign..

    5. Hubert Cumberdale
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Let’s see. The choice basically boils down to banning “trolling” and thus always walking on egg shells when you post a comment online unsure if someone will label you a troll or keeping the “trolls” and pissing off a few whiny cry babies in the process.

      IMO this country needs to HTFU. There are always going to be idiots on the internet do we really need to replace them with idiots that are also cry babies? yeah I dont care if someone is actually trolling I wont call them a troll, this word is overused these days to silence people that have a different opinion for a start. Secondly calling someone a “troll” is to me admitting defeat in a debate. Not my style. Keep the “trolls” get rid of the whiny retards. The internet was great without them.

      • Jeremy
        Posted 13/09/2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

        IMO this country needs to HTFU

        Nail on the head.

      • BuildFTTP
        Posted 17/09/2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

        +1 for HTFU Australia.

        Offense is taken, not given, so why should someone be held responsible for something they don’t have control over?. There will always be someone who will get upset by something said by someone they do not and probably never will know. Stopping ‘trolls’ really is an attack on freedom of speech, as Hubert said:

        ‘always walking on egg shells when you post a comment online unsure if someone will label you a troll’

        Where will that line be drawn?

        I find it amazing that people have nothing more important to worry than what people who do not know them think.

    6. SMEMatt
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Extend it to cover radio and news papers and maybe we can get some “journalist” who deserve it sent to prison.

      • Bern
        Posted 13/09/2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Well, if you look at what happened in the UK with the News Ltd journos, technically it’s already possible – just very, very difficult, and the offence has to be pretty egregious for it to actually get prosecuted.

    7. Murdoch
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Lol of the day for “Kermit arms”.

      I’m not sure this adds much to the discussion, but props to you Renai for creating the visual for me.

      • PointZeroOne
        Posted 13/09/2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

        This article is by technology commentator Geordie Guy. It first appeared on his blog and is licenced under a Creative Commons licence.

    8. Stephen
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Interesting article – but really, does the author think the government is going to win support for its internet retention legislation based on “we hate trolls”? More importantly, since when did Australian tabloids actually say anything of use, value or sense?

      “Faceless Twitter bullies”. “Faceless men”. “Faceless bureaucrats”. Are people using the same PR companies for their campaigns?

      Also, the Twitters/Googles/Facebooks of this world don’t always rely on warrants. Some companies are more than happy to cooperate pre-warrant (although this may only apply to US authorities).

      • Posted 14/09/2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Hi Stephen,

        My name’s Geordie and I’m the author of the article. I was pretty happy to see that Delimiter had availed itself of the licensing on my site which allows them to republish into their own audience, and I’m happy to see that it’s generated discussion here.

        does the author think the government is going to win support for its internet retention legislation based on “we hate trolls”?

        Not quite, no, but a lot of backlash against the retention proposals has asked the question “why do you need these powers when you can’t reliably point to any infamous criminal who got away because you don’t have these powers? Why can’t you point to a problem that giving up our privacy is the solution to?” That’s an awkward question, and one that there wasn’t an answer to until the police were able to point to instances of people being jerks on the Internet and saying “there’s nothing we can do because it’s happening on a platform operated by an entity incorporated in the US”. Of course that’s nonsense, there’s plenty they can do, but it’s an example to show fictitious tied hands.

        More importantly, since when did Australian tabloids actually say anything of use, value or sense?

        Sure. But people listen to them anyway. Heaps of people. You’d be surprised how grossly unpopular use, value and sense are.

        “Faceless Twitter bullies”. “Faceless men”. “Faceless bureaucrats”. Are people using the same PR companies for their campaigns?

        Maybe, but more likely is the scenario where people are unreasonably afraid of anonymity, despite the research showing that there’s nothing bad really that comes out of it.

        Also, the Twitters/Googles/Facebooks of this world don’t always rely on warrants. Some companies are more than happy to cooperate pre-warrant (although this may only apply to US authorities).

        They don’t always, but they overwhelmingly prefer it, because in many cases it destroys a criminal investigation for information to be volunteered without a subpoena, warrant or court order. There are two main problems here, the first is that the police would just prefer to not have to bother – that’s why there’s a national security inquiry to try and push for not having to bother with things like warrants. The second is that our laws in Australia about being offended by jerks on the Internet aren’t reflected in overseas laws. Twitter will be awkward about handing over details of any women on their service who is breaking Shariah law by not wearing a Niqab to Iranian authorities, because those values aren’t shared broadly in the country where Twitter is incorporated and where the people who form the company live. That may sound like an absurd example, but our legal prohibition against being a jerk on the Internet isn’t reflected in US law or society either – in fact it’s a constitutionally protected human right under the First Amendment.

        So there you go, “what does the author think…” you asked, and I answered.

        Have an awesome day.

        – Geordie

    9. socrates
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Why does News Ltd want ‘something’ done to impose controls and restrictions on the net?

      Why does News Ltd vehemently oppose building the NBN?

      The answers to these two questions may be quite similar…

    10. Posted 13/09/2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Telegraph mounting a ‘campaign’ on trolling….

      Pot- meet kettle. The colour you are discussing is known in some circles as ‘charcoal’ but feel free to argue.

      Of course no one recognises the Telegraph as ‘s troll’

      • TechinBris
        Posted 14/09/2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Opinionated, uncivil, character assassination, biased reporting, propaganda, misrepresentation and seditionist are all words I would use to describe Murdoch’s Media Machine. Troll is normally a person utilising a human emotive response mechanism. Regardless of the fact Corporations are seen legally as a person, I am sorry, I will never see them as such, untill the day they can have their life extinguished as easily as ours can be. When Corporations are as accountable as you or I, then they can have the right to be a Troll like any of us can be. But they will never be as good as us, because we invented it before they ever existed.
        See! I can “Troll” too. I bet The Daily “BLÜT BLATT” *cough* Telegraph, won’t like this treatment and will call to stop trolling. Oh! They have? See how correct I am! Well when they can stop their disreputable form of trash mongering, I will stop “Trolling” them. I think that is fair.
        Gee, we could make them wish they had never ever taken this one up. *evil grin*

    11. Posted 13/09/2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Or ‘a troll’ even. That’s because they’ve only just discovered this ‘internets’ thing….apparently It’s quite popular….

    12. Frank Costanza
      Posted 13/09/2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

      No doubt Susie O’Brien has a hand in this. She wants trolls ‘hunted down’, but her newspaper column is full of hatred towards anyone she disagrees with.

    13. Stephen
      Posted 14/09/2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Brillant totally agree. Its very easy to see the agenda being pushed here. The news woman calls on trolls to attack her on Twitter, they do she acts like she’s mentally distressed by it all (yeah right) and calls for an ambulance at 3am and then OF COURSE calls for a Police officer to come over at the same time to try and get the ‘crime’ recorded.

      I tried calling the police at 1pm after one of my staff members got one punched unprovoked in a coffee shop below our building. The cops said “Please go take witness details for us, goto doctor and get a written record of the assault then come to us in the afternoon sometime “if you really want to file a complaint about the matter”. And we knew the guy worked at a certain sporting betting agency 2 floors below us. They did not care.

      They don’t have enough people to even bother turning up to an assault on a innocent victim at lunch time are we meant to believe they care about Trolls. NOPE they care about knowing everything about us and destorying privacy for their little nanny police state in the making.

      • TechinBris
        Posted 14/09/2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Very valid points to consider. Maybe this harrasment thing of the Reporter requires looking into why she got preferential treatment over other assault cases.

    14. Russell Stuart
      Posted 15/09/2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

      As an occasional troll myself, all I can say is I am in awe of the troll. Getting a bite from the Prime Minister and Attorney General – wow what a bite!

      The troll won!

    15. Russell Stuart
      Posted 15/09/2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

      As an occasional troll myself, all I can say is I am in awe of the troll. Getting a bite from the Prime Minister and Attorney General – wow what a bite!

      The troll won!

      • TechinBris
        Posted 17/09/2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink | Reply

        Who said the little guy cannot win. God bless the great equaliser, the Internet. LOL

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