In June 2021, the Australian parliament passed a new Bill which gives the eSafety Commissioner - an independent statutory office - new powers to force social media platforms to remove abusive or violent content and block sites that refuse.
The Bill seeks to improve and promote online safety for Australians.
This legislation extends the online takedown scheme to Australian adults, allowing the eSafety Commissioner to issue removal notices for content she deems to constitute online abuse, image-based abuse and harmful online content, within a 24-hour time limit. This important legislation also increases the maximum penalty for using a carriage service to harass to five years imprisonment.
Legislation is important, however it is only as good as its enforcement. We also need to realise we can't enforce our way out of online problems, and this includes cyber safety issues, such as online bullying, sexting and other anti-social behaviours.
The internet is a great way to socialise, learn, work, play and be entertained, but there are also risks and online threats emerge and rapidly evolve.
In research performed by the eSafety Commissioner, 64 per cent of Australian adults perceive their greatest harm online is exposure to scams or fraud, followed by being bullied or trolled online (56 per cent) and the misuse of personal information or images (55 per cent). Enforcement can only reduce this by so much.
Australians need to be aware of the online risks and balance these against the benefits they accrue from being online. They need to understand the tools and techniques to having a positive online experience.
The good news is 79 per cent of Australian adults say they have a good understanding of the negative things that can happen online and 72 per cent feel confident using online technology.
We all have our part to play. Governments need to create and enforce laws which impact on our online experience; technology companies need to build in safety features into their services and products; and consumers need to act responsibly, ethically and lawfully when online.
We also need to understand the importance of safeguarding our personal information - particularly in social media posts - that can be used to identify or locate us.
Within a COVID-19 environment, it is important that we all achieve a healthy balance in our online and offline activities and set boundaries for digital device use in the home.
Nigel Phair is the director of enterprise at UNSW's Institute for Cyber Security.