Web giants face fines in online bullying crackdown

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Web giants face fines in online bullying crackdown

Up to $17,000 per day for ignoring notices.

Social media companies could face fines of up to $17,000 for every day they fail to act on demands by the Government’s new e-Safety Commissioner to take down bullying material, if a bill entered in parliament today is passed into law.

Parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, today introduced the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014, making good on a pre-election promise to regulate social media content in the name of preventing online bullying.

The bill dictates that a soon-to-be-appointed Children’s e-Safety Commissioner will be given the power to hand out fines to social media services that fall off a proposed tiered compliance register and yet still continue to ignore take-down notices.

Under the new regime, after receiving complaints about online bullying, the e-Safety Commissioner will be then able to issue social media providers with requests to remove offending content within 48 hours, unless another timeframe is specified.

Those who comply will be listed on a Government register of tier 1 providers.

But those who repeatedly fail to meet requests over a 12 month period will be demoted down to a second tier, with an effective ‘blacklist’ of tier 2 services to be published on the Commissioner’s website.

Those that continue to refuse to remove requested content will face fines of up to $17,000 day, a spokesman for Fletcher confirmed.

The Commissioner will also be able to issue notices to the authors of offending content, ordering them to remove posts and to apologise to subjects.

The Commissioner will not, however, be able to fine these individuals directly for non-compliance, but will be able to serve them with a court injunction which will put them at the mercy of the judicial system.

The bill classifies "cyber-bullying" material as anything targeted at a specific, Australian child, which could be deemed by an ordinary or reasonable person as “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 proposed legislation has also set parameters around what is classified as a social media service for the purpose of the Act.

Applicable services will be defined as those whose “sole or primary purpose of the service is to enable online social interaction between two or more end users” which also gives end users the option of interacting with an expanded circle of fellow users, and post material on the service.

The bill specifically exempts telco carriers and billing or fee collection services aligned with social media sites from liability under the new rules, as well as any services that facilitate information sharing for business purposes.

It also makes it clear that material will be considered ‘removed’ for the purpose of the new laws as long as it can no longer be accessed – or delivered to – users within Australia.

“With research showing that one in five Australian children are the victims of cyber bullying, this bill brings powerful new tools to help keep children safe online,” Fletcher said in a statement.

The Government has set aside $7.5 million to teach school kids about online safety and a further $100,000 for research and information campaigns. 

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