Govt passes law to fine web giants over online bullying

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Govt passes law to fine web giants over online bullying

Take down offending material or pay up.

Australia will soon implement a scheme to compel web giants and social network operators to take down bullying material after a law to improve online safety for children today passed the Senate.

The Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 was first introduced in December by parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, after several months of consultation.

It was aimed at regulating social media content in an effort to stamp out online bullying, through fines and the introduction of a Children's e-Safety Commissioner to oversee the two-tier scheme.

The bill, passed today by the Senate, allows the Government to issue fines to global social media companies of up to $17,000 per day if they fail to act on demands to take down bullying material.

Such providers would have fallen into the second of two categories. The two-tier system offers social media companies a timeframe in which to act before the company falls into the second tier, and it is named and shamed on the Commissioner's website and issued with a fine.

The bill classifies "cyber-bullying" material as anything targeted at a specific Australian child, and which could be reasonably considered to be “seriously” threatening, intimidating, harassing or humiliating.

To be considered as ‘posted’, the material only has to be seen by one other user of the service.

The bill will still need to pass through the Government-majority House of Representatives before it formally becomes law.

Following today's Senate vote, Fletcher said the passing of the bill was a "very significant milestone" in efforts to make the internet safer for Australian children.

“It is very pleasing to see the bipartisan support for this bill – which in turn reflects the message that politicians across the spectrum are hearing from Australia’s parents, children and teachers about the importance of keeping children safe online – and doing more to protect children against the threat of cyberbullying," he said in a statement.

The Government will now turn its focus to establishing the Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner - expected to cost $2.4 million - and appointing someone to the role.

The office will be made up of resources transferred from elsewhere in the public service, Fletcher said.

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