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Australia – “Won’t Somebody Please Think Of The Children?”: Federal Government Tackles Cyber-Bullying.

22 May, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Australia – TMT

 

What You Need To Know

 

  • The Federal Government is considering a number of strategies to improve the safety of children online and address cyber-bullying. 
  • If the Government’s proposals are adopted then, depending on the form of the changes, social media site owners, content providers and users will need to take steps to ensure that they comply with the new scheme and do not breach applicable laws.

 

In a world lived increasingly online, it has become more difficult for children to disconnect from their peers. Cyber-bullying, where children are targeted by others online or via mobile or other technologies, has become a serious problem, as abuse, isolation and ridicule can now follow children into all aspects of their lives. The consequences can be severe, with some children going so far as to take their own lives in response to bullying (including cyber-bullying).

 
Prior to the election, the Coalition indicated that it would seek to address cyber-bullying risks as they affect children, and followed this up in January 2014 with a public consultation process, seeking feedback on its proposed policies. The consultation process closed on 7 March 2014. So what are the Government’s policies?

 
Children’s e-Safety Commissioner

 
The Government has proposed the establishment of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner, to drive policy adoption and implementation across government to improve the safety of children online, to assist in educating the public regarding the risks and to act as a single point of contact for industry, affected children and parents, guardians and carers of children.

 
Rapid Removal Of Content Harmful To Children

 
The second limb of the Government’s consultation paper is to create arrangements to facilitate the rapid removal of content from, in particular, social media sites. At this stage, it is proposed to be a scheme covering large social media sites which are determined by the Minister to be participants, and any other social media site which volunteers to participate in the scheme.

 
Participating sites would, if the proposal is adopted, be required to put in place an acceptable complaints handling scheme and rapid removal arrangement, with the Commissioner to be empowered to assess the acceptability of the scheme. Persons able to report harmful material would include the affected child, the child’s parent or guardian or another person in a position of authority in relation to the child (such as a teacher or carer). The scheme contemplates not only that the participating site may be required to take down the relevant content, but that the individual who posted it could be required to remove the material.

 
In the event of non-compliance, the proposed scheme includes sanctions such as public statements, formal warnings, infringement notices (including fines) and civil penalties.

 
Cyber-Bullying Offence

 
The third aspect of the Government’s proposal is the possible creation of a specific offence in relation to cyber-bullying. The consultation paper outlines a range of different options, from raising awareness of current laws which may provide an avenue for prosecution of cyber-bullies, to creation of a new offence relating specifically to cyber-bullying of minors, through to establishment of a civil enforcement regime to deal with cyber-bullying.

 
What Does This Mean?

 
If the proposal is adopted, this will impact both social media site owners and content providers. In relation to social media site owners, those that are required to, or volunteer to, participate in the rapid removal scheme will have to develop and put in place an appropriate complaints handling scheme and rapid removal arrangement. It will then be critical that the scheme and arrangement are followed, in order to avoid potential penalties.

 
Content providers and users will need to be cautious when posting comment regarding minors online, to ensure that they do not breach applicable laws and risk committing an offence or being subject to a civil enforcement regime.

 
Avoiding harm to children online is, clearly, a worthy goal. It will be important that any legislative or policy changes introduced to combat cyber-bullying is appropriately drafted to ensure that children are protected, while social media site owners are not faced with excessive compliance costs.

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Amanda Ludlow, Partner, Ashurst 
amanda.ludlow@ashurst.com


Jane Burton, Ashurst
jane.burton@ashurst.com

 

Ashurst TMT Practice Profile in Australia

 

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