The Government’s recent discourse concerning the need to create a “Children’s e-Safety Commissioner” for persons under 18 years of age in the Enhancing Online Safety Bill 2014 speaks volumes about today’s society. In an increasingly globalised world, the rapid spread of information has become commonplace. While there are undeniable benefits, it also has setbacks. With the development of social media as a form of communication, people have become accustomed to sharing aspects of their lives online through posts, photos, blogs, and videos. The widespread use of social media has created a new culture in modern society: an online culture not regulated by the same overarching values of respect and tolerance that governed society in the past.
With cyber bullying becoming part of this new culture the Australian Government has decided to step in. With one in five children from ages of 8 to 17 years being affected by online bullying, there is evidently a need for additional mechanisms targeting offensive content online in the interest of public safety.
Paul Fletcher, the Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, has defined cyber bullying as “content targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child”. As the majority of social media sites already have reporting mechanisms, forwarding the case to the Commissioner for e-Safety is the next step. In many cases where content is reported as offensive or harmful, there is little confirmation as to whether the complaint has successfully gone through the right channel and that action is being taken. In situations where children are being targeted and bullied by other individuals on posts or threads out of their control, the time it takes for the report to be addressed can be crucial.
It is here that the role of the Commissioner for e-Safety comes in. If, after 48-hours, the reported post is not removed, the parents of the child in question may report the issue to the Commissioner, who is then in a position to commence investigation into the matter. This investigation could then result in the Commissioner issuing the social media site with a notice to remove the offensive content within 48 hours, failing which fines of up to $17,000 per day may be levied.
It is difficult to interpret what kind of content would be deemed harmful as that which is regarded as “harmful” to one child may not be so for another. The need for a Commissioner for e-Safety questions the way children are being nurtured in today’s society. In former years where interaction was primarily face-to-face there was little tolerance for bullying without serious consequences. In today’s society where so much communication occurs in online social media forums, it can be said that society has abandoned general values of respect and the regulation of offensive behaviour – clouded by and hidden behind nothing more than an LED screen.