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3 September, 2021

Boosting eSafety Commissioner’s powers to combat cyber bullies

AUSTRALIA’s unique eSafety Commissioner will have expanded powers to protect the public from cyber bullying and harm, when a new law comes into effect in less than six months.

By David Gardiner

The Online Safety Act will help further protect Australians across all platforms where harm regularly occurs, including video gaming, dating websites, and private messaging apps.

Far north Queensland is just as susceptible to online abuse incidents as anywhere else in Australia.

For the first time anywhere in the world, eSafety will formally begin operating a new adult cyber abuse scheme to finally give Australian adults who are the victims of seriously harmful online abuse, somewhere to turn when the platforms fail to act.

And there will be significant financial penalties for perpetrators, so trolls will no longer feel safe to perpetuate abuse and online hate with impunity.

“eSafety can require the removal of adult cyber abuse material that targets an Australian if we are satisfied that the material is posted with the likely intention of causing serious harm and is menacing, harassing or offensive - a high threshold,” Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said. “If the material is not removed, eSafety can impose civil penalties, including fines, on those who posted it and the provider of the service where it appears.”

To get an idea of the scale and escalation of online abuse in Australia, including from the Cairns region and other areas of far north Queensland, in 2019 there were just under 11,000 reports to eSafety of ‘illegal and harmful online content’– that figure nearly doubled in 2020 to 20,796 reports in that category.

eSafety also handles several other types of abuse reports: there were 1,511 reports under ‘image-based abuse’ in 2019; and more than double that - 3,239 reports - the following year. There have also been steady increases in the hundreds of youth cyber-bullying and adult cyber abuse reports in recent years.

Under the new legislation which takes effect in January 2022, the time given to social media and other online platforms to remove harmful content after receiving a notice from the eSafety Commissioner will be halved – from 48 hours to 24 – greatly reducing the mental and emotional distress experienced by victims.

Australia’s online content scheme, which deals with illegal and harmful content including child sexual abuse material, will also be modernised for the century, giving eSafety the power to tackle this content no matter where it is hosted.

“If you are under 18 eSafety can help with removal of serious cyberbullying material,” Ms Brant said. “If an intimate image has been shared, or threatened to share it without consent, you can make a report to eSafety.

“The Cyber Report team investigates complaints and assists in the removal of illegal and harmful content such as child sexual abuse material, material that promotes, incites, or instructs in, terrorist acts or
violent crimes.”

eSafety has the power to compel online platforms to remove image-based abuse, sometimes inappropriately called ‘revenge porn’, as well as cyberbullying targeting children. The government agency provides support and advice for adult victims of cyber abuse.

The Commissioner says rather than being simply reactive, the agency also prides itself on being pro-active - developing evidence-based resources and programs to prevent online harms from happening in the first place.

“We know that meaningful behavioural change can take decades, so our work with Australians is evidence-based and audience-focused but also age and context appropriate, including resources specifically for women, older Australians and children,” Ms Grant said.

“eSafety’s investigative teams have a range of civil powers to compel takedown of illegal or harmful content, whether that’s child sexual abuse material, pro-terrorist content, serious cyberbullying of a child, and image-based abuse,” she said.

“These schemes provide a vital safety net for Australians when their reports for help to the platforms fall through the cracks and go unanswered.”

A comprehensive range of resources and information about staying safe online can be found at:

 2019-2020 Reports Comparison

Report Type Reports 2019 Reports 2020 Percentage Change Increase
Illegal and harmful online content 10949 20796 90%
Image Based Abuse 1511 3239 114%
Youth cyberbullying 638 824 29.2%
Adult cyber abuse 947 1296 36.9%

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