Government cracks down on social networks

Social networking services could face fines if they don't remove bullying material

The government has introduced a bill to establish a 'Children's e-Safety Commissioner' to spearhead initiatives targeting online bullying. The legislation also introduces a scheme for the "rapid removal" of bullying material targeting an Australian child that is posted on social networking sites, with social networks potentially facing fines if they fail to comply

"The bill sets out a two-tiered scheme for the rapid removal from large social media services of cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child," parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications Paul Fletcher said, introducing the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014.

"Social media services participating under tier 1 will do so on a cooperative basis; that is the service will apply to participate and if its application is accepted it will be included within tier 1."

If a complaint is made to the commissioner, he or she may issue a request for a tier 1 social network to remove material from its service. There is no legal obligation for a tier 1 service to remove material, but if a service repeatedly fails to remove material within 48 hours over a period of 12 months, the commissioner can request the communications minister declares it a tier 2 service.

"Those declared to be tier 2 social media services will be subject to legally binding notices or face the risk of civil penalties for non-compliance," Fletcher said.

"The two-tier scheme in the bill allows for a light touch regulatory scheme in circumstances where the social media service has an effective complaints scheme and it is working well; but it enables the government to require that cyber-bullying material targeted at an Australian child be removed in circumstances where a social media service does not have an effective and well-resourced complaints system. The commissioner will maintain registers of tier 1 and tier 2 social media services.

"The commissioner will also be able to publish statements about non-compliant social media services in respect of failing to comply with the basic online safety requirements failing to comply with a request for removal of cyber-bullying material or failing to comply with a social media service notice."

Only "large" social media services will be part of the scheme.

The commissioner can also issue "end-user notices" to individuals, the Coalition MP said.

Read more: Senate passes legislation to crack down on social media

"An end-user notice may require the recipient of the notice to take all reasonable steps to remove the material, refrain from posting further material targeted at the child or apologise for posting the material. The next steps available to the commissioner, if the recipient of the notice fails to respond, will include going to court to seek an injunction, or referring the matter to police."

The commissioner will not be able to fine end users.

The Children's e-Safety Commissioner will sit within the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Debate on the bill has been adjourned until the next sitting of parliament.

How the bill defines 'Cyber bullying material targeted at an Australian child':

(1) For the purposes of this Act, if material satisfies the following conditions:
      (a) the material is provided on a social media service or relevant electronic service;
      (b) an ordinary reasonable person would conclude that:
            (i) it is likely that the material was intended to have an effect
            on a particular Australian child; and
            (ii) the material would be likely to have the effect on the Australian
            child of seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously
            harassing or seriously humiliating the Australian child;
      (c) such other conditions (if any) as are set out in the legislative rules; then:
      (d) the material is cyber bullying material targeted at the Australian child; and
      (e) the Australian child is the target of the material. (2) An effect mentioned in subsection (1) may be:
      (a) a direct result of the material being accessed by, or delivered to, the Australian
      child; or
      (b) an indirect result of the material being accessed by, or delivered to,
      one or more other persons. (3) Subsection (1) has effect subject to subsection (4) . (4) For the purposes of this Act, if:
      (a) a person is:
            (i) in a position of authority over an Australian child; and
            (ii) an end user of a social media service or relevant electronic service; and
      (b) in the lawful exercise of that authority, the person posts material on the service; and
      (c) the posting of the material is reasonable action taken in a reasonable manner;
the material is taken not to be cyber bullying material targeted at the Australian child.

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