Children can now complain to a specific federal body if they are cyber-bullied. Passed in early 2015, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act established a Children’s eSafety Commissioner, a complaints system for reporting cyber-bullying material aimed at an Australian child and a two-tiered system for rapid removal of cyber-bullying material from large social-media services.
The Children’s eSafety Commissioner is an independent statutory office within the Australian Communications and Media Authority to administer cyber-bullying complaints. The commissioner will also promote children’s online safety, co-ordinate relevant Commonwealth department, authority and agency activities, conduct, accredit and evaluate educational and community awareness programs, make grants and advise the Communications Minister.
A child or their parent/guardian can lodge a complaint to the commissioner if they have reported the material to the specific social-media site first and did not receive an outcome. The commissioner will have the power to investigate complaints into cyber-bullying and conduct investigations as he or she sees fit.
Among other things, the legislation provides for:
- Establishing the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, setting out the commissioner’s functions and powers;
- A complaints system for cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child;
- A two-tiered scheme for the rapid removal from large social-media services of cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child;
- A mechanism for the commissioner to give end-user notices to require a person who posts cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child to remove the material, refrain from posting further material or apologise to the child for posting the material; and
- Enforcement mechanisms.
Who enforces cyber-bullying federal laws?
There is no specific offence of “cyber-bullying” under Commonwealth legislation, but it is an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence under s474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The maximum penalty is three years imprisonment or a fine of more than $30,000. This covers a wide range of cyber-bullying behaviour, such as making threats over social media or posting compromising photos.
State and territory police are responsible for investigating cyber-bullying and may apply relevant state/territory legislation or the Commonwealth legislation. In the ACT, as in some other states and territories, stalking legislation may cover some of the behaviours we see with “cyber-bulling”.
An Australian Federal Police (AFP) spokesperson says although it does not investigate such matters – it focuses on crimes against the Commonwealth – the AFP acknowledges that cyberbullying can be devastating. It also encourages the reporting of inappropriate or offensive content to the relevant internet or mobile-service providers or social-media sites to have it removed/deleted, and to contact their local police.
“As part of the AFP’s role in investigating crimes committed against the Commonwealth, the AFP’s Cyber Crime Operations investigates the compromise of computer systems of national significance,” the spokesperson says.
“This includes critical national infrastructure and information systems, major financial institutions and government agencies.”
A number of people have been convicted of using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. Most of these prosecutions were conducted by state and territory police.
Cyber-Bullying and the AFP
- Due to the internet’s borderless nature, unwanted contact, harassment or cyber-bullying can occur from anywhere in the world.
- Schools and parents should become involved in the first instance, as they would with most “offline” bullying.
- Schools should have a cyber-bullying policy with sanctions for students who bully others during or outside school hours.
- Serious cyber-bullying or stalking cases can be reported to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network.
- Through initiatives such as ThinkUK now, the AFP works with the private sector to educate about staying safe online.
- The AFP’s High Tech Crime Operations Crime Prevention team presents at schools, junior sporting clubs and community groups about online risks and staying safe.