Australia to social media: self-censor or face AU$17,000 FINES

Anti-bullying bill calls on social networks to help out or be banished to naughty corner

Dunce

Australia's long-threatened plan to compel social networks to remove bullying material directed at children has emerged, complete with a naughty corner for networks who don't play nice with others.

The bill seeks to ensure that all social networks operating in Australia implement “basic online safety requirements” including prohibition on bullying in their terms of service, operate “ a complaints scheme under which end-users of the service can request the removal from the service of cyber-bullying material”.

There's also a requirement to appoint “an employee or agent” who handles bullying complaints referred by a to-be-appointed Children's e-safety commissioner who sends notifications of material that “would be likely to have the effect … of seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating the Australian child”.

Social networks who employ a contact person and respond nicely get “tier 1 status” and a gold star on the commissioner's website. Social networks that don't follow the commissioner's rules will be put into tier 2, and listed as such on the commissioner's site.

Those on tier 2 can also be served a “social media service notice” compelling them to “remove the material from the service... within 48 hours after the social media service notice”. Failure to comply can attract fines of AU$17,000 (US$14,300 or £9,125) a day.

Promotion and demotion between the tiers will be possible.

The bill also outlines an “end-user notice” requiring those who post bullying material “to take all reasonable steps to ensure the removal of the material”, stop posting such material and apologise to victims. Failure to respond to a notice could result in an injunction to do so.

The bill is a bit toothless: there's no mention of anything harsher than fines and a few admissions that there's not much Australia can do to repeat offenders other than write them stern letters and hope citizens are outraged by the naughty list.

It's also a little better than the current government's pre-election policy suggested it might be: that document [PDF] called for parental controls to be installed on all manner of computing devices and their operation assisted by network operators.

Australia has a long history of attempts to censor the internet, most of which look ridiculous to those in other nations not least because a prohibition on using offshore-hosted gambling sites has not once been enforced. The absence of the parental control provisions in this bill might just save the nation from again being a digital laughing stock. ®


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