Websites including Facebook are being forced to identify cyber bullies and trolls under new measures.Last week, a British woman won a court order forcing Facebook to identify users who had harassed her.
Nicola Brookes had been falsely branded a paedophile and drug dealer by users – known as trolls – on Facebook.
Facebook, which did not contest the order, will now reveal the IP addresses of the people who had abused her so she can prosecute them.
All websites will soon be forced to identify people who have posted defamatory messages online.
New government proposals say victims have a right to know who is behind malicious messages without the need for costly legal battles.
The powers will be balanced by measures to prevent false claims in order to get material removed.
The new powers, to be added to the Defamation Bill, would make this process far less time-consuming and costly, the government said.
Complying with requests would afford websites greater protection from being sued in the event of a defamation claim.
The new rules would apply to all websites – regardless of where they are hosted – but the claimant would need to be able to show that the UK was the right place to bring the action.
“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 Justice Secretary Ken 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.”
Mr Clarke said the measures would mean an end to “scurrilous rumour and allegation” being posted online without fear of adequate punishment.
“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 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.”