Fri, 19 Mar 2021 - 08:16
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Taking the necessary steps to stop online abuse

Journalist Erin Molan.  AFLW player Taylah Harris. Queensland Chief Medical Office Jeanette Young.

 

Just some of the many Australian women who have spoken of receiving vicious online abuse.

 

There are some who cannot speak -- after being driven to suicide after being bullied or trolled online.  Northern Territory teenager Dolly Everett.  Television personality Charlotte Dawson.

 

These are the well-known cases.  But sadly, the true volume of online abuse is vastly higher.

 

All Australians deserve to be safe, whether walking down the street or using social media. 

 

And women face particular risks online.

 

All Australians deserve the protection of the rule of law online, as well as offline.

 

That is why our Government set up the eSafety Commissioner in 2015 -- and why, a few weeks ago, I introduced a new Online Safety Act into the Parliament: to give strong new powers to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant.

 

The new Act will set up a world-first cyber abuse take-down scheme to protect Australians from harmful, toxic abuse online, building on our existing, successful and proven cyber-bullying scheme for children.

 

If you experience online harassment on a social media platform, you will be able to go to the eSafety Commissioner. And if she judges that the harassing material meets the test in the Act, she can order the platform to take it down.

 

Under the new Act, we’re reducing the time for online platforms to remove image-based abuse, cyber-abuse, cyber-bullying, and seriously harmful online content, from 48 hours to 24 hours.

 

Sadly, Big Tech is still resisting this law -- just like they opposed our 2015 initiative to set up the eSafety Commissioner in the first place.

 

Just this week, the Nine newspapers gave a Big Tech lobby group a platform to argue that they just need a little more time.  We all know what that is code for: doing nothing.

 

Their article claimed, wrongly, that the Morrison Government has not kept its promise to increase the penalties for using a ‘carriage service’ - that is, the internet - to menace, harass or offend.  In fact, the increase is contained in the very reforms they are trying to stop.

 

That’s not the only false claim by Big Tech; the article also says we have rushed the consultation process on the new Act.  In fact we promised this new Act in 2018; issued a detailed consultation paper in 2019; and issued an exposure draft of the Bill late last year. 

 

They also claimed that the new cyber abuse scheme was too tough and could become a “political tool” by restricting “political speech.”

 

On the contrary, we have set a high bar for what constitutes ‘cyber abuse.’  It has to be material which is intentional; which constitutes serious harm or is menacing, harassing or offensive; and which targets a specific adult.

 

Make no mistake, online abuse is a big problem that affects many, many Australians.

 

In 2019-20, the eSafety Commissioner received 2,700 reports of image-based abuse (the non-consensual sharing of intimate images) and over 1,000 requests for assistance from adults experiencing cyber abuse, the majority of whom were women.

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 18 March 2021