New legislation to crack down on the cyber bullying of Australian children will not be extended to include adults, despite a strong campaign for changes following the death of TV host Charlotte Dawson.
Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher is currently developing legislation around means to protect children online after releasing a discussion paper earlier this year outlining proposals for an eSafety Commissioner, rapid removal of harmful social media content, and new legislation targeting cyber bullies.
While in the Criminal Code Act, there are already provisions making it an offense for a person to use a carriage service, such as the internet or social media, to menace or harass people of any age, the proposal contained in the discussion paper would set up a new specific cyber-bullying offence for people targeting children under 18 years of age, with a lower penalty than the Criminal Code offense, such as a fine of AU$1,000.
But some have called for the law to go even further. In February, TV host Charlotte Dawson took her own life following a long battle with depression. Prior to her death, Dawson campaigned strongly against bullying on social media, and since her death, a Change.org petition has been signed by close to 200,000 people calling for the government to introduce strong new cyber-bullying laws for adults as well as children.
As part of the public consultation for the proposed new cyber safety legislation, the Department of Communications said it received "over 3,000 emails" arguing that cyber-bullying laws should include everyone and not just children.
ZDNet asked Fletcher's office if that indicated that the government was thinking of expanding the proposed legislation to include adults, but a spokesperson for Fletcher's office said there were no plans to do so at this time.
"In our society, there are a range of areas where we put in place extra protections for children in recognition of the fact they are not necessarily able to make judgements or protect themselves in the same way that adults are. The Coalition accordingly took to the election a policy to enhance online safety for children," the spokesperson said.
"There are no plans to introduce additional measures in relation to adult cyberbullying. Of course, there are existing criminal laws which apply to using the internet to menace and harass people of all ages."
The government has faced fierce opposition from social networking sites to its other proposal for an eSafety Commissioner empowered to compel the social networks to remove content deemed harmful to a specific Australian child.
Companies such as Facebook and Google have argued that they already have measures in place to quickly respond to requests to remove content by users who believe they are being bullied or harassed.
Supporters of creating an eSafety Commissioner role have said that it should be put in as a trial first to ensure that it would work effectively.