Wed, 26 Jan 2022 - 11:20
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Time is up for trolls

If you are an anonymous troll who enjoys baiting and intimidating others online, this is not a good week for you. And if you are a big tech company that has not done enough to keep your users safe, this week is your wake-up call.

 

Because this is the first week in operation of the Morrison Government’s tough new Online Safety Act.

 

Under the Act, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner will for the first time have the power to order the removal of harmful cyber abuse of adults in cases where social media companies have failed to act on a complaint.

 

This builds on the highly effective laws against the cyberbullying of children that we introduced in 2015. Naturally, the threshold is higher for adults than for children. To meet the threshold for the new scheme, the abuse must be intended to cause serious harm to a particular adult and be “menacing, harassing or offensive in all the circumstances.”

 

Social media is a valuable resource that allows us to keep up with subjects of interest to us, and to connect with others who share those interests. But, as Erin Molan wrote here in The Telegraph last week, Australians have had enough of the toxic abuse that all too often is dished out on social media.

 

This world-leading law, dealing with the serious cyber abuse of adults, is just one of the features of the new Online Safety Act. It also gives the eSafety Commissioner stronger information gathering and investigative powers to unmask anonymous accounts.

 

It brings important new protections for children, extending the eSafety Commissioner’s powers to deal with cyberbullying beyond social media to include gaming platforms and other sites used by children.

 

The new Act gives eSafety stronger powers to enforce removal of illegal content—including child sexual exploitation material and terrorist content—no matter where in the world it is hosted. Services that host such appalling material may have their content delinked from search engines and their apps removed from app stores if they fail to comply with a takedown notice.

 

And if individuals and organisations don’t act swiftly in response to an eSafety take-down notice, they may face significant financial penalties—up to $111,000 per offence for individuals and $555,000 for corporations.

 

This new Act is part of a coordinated approach by the Morrison Government to help make the internet safer for Australians. Late last year, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General announced new anti-trolling laws that would help people who are defamed online to unmask their anonymous trolls more easily. If a big tech company fails to facilitate this, it risks becoming itself liable in defamation as publishers of the content.

 

Meanwhile, the parliamentary inquiry we announced in December is putting the safety practices of big tech under the microscope. The committee has been taking submissions and conducting public hearings, and will present its final report next month.

 

Also in December, we announced the formation of an Online Safety Youth Advisory Council to provide a direct voice to Government on the online safety issues that most concern young people. Nominations for the Council opened last week.

 

Australians love using the internet—and we all rightly expect to be protected by the rule of law when we gather together in the digital town square, just as when we gather in the physical town square. Delivering that protection has been a consistent focus for our Liberals and Nationals Government since we were elected in 2013.

 

We’ve come a long way, and today marks another big step forward in making the internet safer for Australians.

This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 25 January 2022