Australia's online bullying monitor starts Wednesday

Children will be able to lodge complaints to e-Safety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon from July 1 to seek to have alleged bullying content pulled down from Facebook and Twitter.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

From Wednesday, Australian children who believe that they are being bullied online will be able to ask Children's e-Safety Commissioner Alastair MacGibbon to request for sites like Twitter and Facebook to remove the bullying content.

The commissioner is designed to be a one-stop shop for Australian children or their guardians to lodge complaints about bullying content online. The commissioner will be empowered to investigate and seek to have the content removed if it is deemed to be bullying of a specific Australian child.

The scheme will be broken up into two tiers, with the first tier having a voluntary rapid content-removal process for large social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, which already have content-removal schemes in place as declared by the commissioner.

If the tier 1 social network fails to comply with requests over a 12-month period, then the commissioner may revoke its status down to tier 2.

Tier 2 social networks that fail to comply with legally binding notices to remove content face civil penalties of AU$17,000 per day.

MacGibbon secured the job in May ahead of the launch in the new financial year.

But the launch from Wednesday will be a soft one, according to Parliamentary Secretary Paul Fletcher.

He said that there will be a complaints service made available on the website from tomorrow, but a formal launch will be held "in weeks to come".

Fletcher said the government is delivering on an election promise.

"The Coalition took a policy to enhance online safety for children to the 2013 election -- and we are delivering on our policy commitment," Fletcher said.

The "enhancing online safety for children" policy document also originally included plans for an opt-out internet filter for all Australians, but the document was quickly pulled down and had the filter policy removed just five hours after it was discovered by ZDNet.

It comes as New Zealand is preparing to pass laws that would also require sites to remove "harmful content" but would also cover adults, and not just children. The legislation would also make it a criminal offence to send messages and post material online that deliberately causes serious emotional distress.

It is punishable by up to two years' imprisonment, and NZ$50,000 in fines for individuals, or NZ$200,000 for companies.

"Whether it's in the schoolyard, the workplace, or at home, bullying anywhere is intolerable," Minister for Justice Amy Adams said.

"But the reality is that the digital age has allowed the reach and impact of bullying to increase dramatically.

"This Bill will help stop cyberbullies and reduce the devastating impact their actions can have by simplifying the process for getting abusive material off the internet in a quick and proportionate way."

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