Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill

The internet, as we know, is the most fabulous tool, which

is why there are three billion people using the internet. When I ask young people what they do online and on

their devices, the answer is: everything. But, with at least 20 to 25 per cent of young people being bullied online,

there is no question that there is a problem. From my experience, these figures are extremely conservative, which

is why I would like to see the e-safety commissioner develop more accurate methods to define and measure

cyberbullying.

So what is cyberbullying for a young person? Given that we know that bullying is the wilful desire to hurt,

humiliate, dominate and put someone under stress, online it is the same: it is being bombarded with insulting,

intimidating, nasty, offensive, hateful, humiliating, threatening or abusive material—often 24 hours a day

seven days a week. It could be via text messages; Facebook; Twitter; Snapchat; through embarrassing photos

posted without permission; hate websites; WhatsApp; instant messaging; offensive chats during online gaming;

comments on their posts or posts about them; voting and disgusting comments about them on rating sites; rumours

and lies about the child ruining their reputation; by impersonation—a fake profile used to make defamatory;

cyberstalking—following the child online and posting where they post; flaming—a fight between two that

spreads online to include others; or being excluded from online groups and forums.

This can be devastating for the young person who often has to deal with this alone—because they cannot talk to

mum or dad. They are scared or worried about what is happening online but they are also scared that, if they tell

mum or dad, they will have their device taken away, their time on the internet reduced, be punished or perhaps

all three. The young person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing is affected. We all have examples in

our communities of suicide, attempted suicide, self-harm—the dreadful increase in cutting facilitated by social

media.

Cyberbullying can affect students’ learning and, ultimately, their achievements. But the young bully also has

problems that need to be dealt with. At a presentation by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, I heard that

60 per cent of bullies in years 6 to 9 had at least one criminal conviction by the time they were 25; 83 per cent

of those who bully online also bully physically; and 84 per cent of those who were bullied online were also

bullied physically.

In many cases, cyberbullying can actually be illegal—but how many people know this? I presented a private

member’s motion to this House in 2013 that called for a national coordinated response. The motion was designed

to help our young people manage the online risks they are facing every day. I want to help them and their families

become much more aware and alert than they are now; for them to be confident, to stay safe and to know how

to be responsible online so they can make the most of their experiences and opportunities, and have fun.

So, this legislation means a lot to me. It is an important step in helping to protect children online. It means

a lot to young people, their families and school communities. That is why I am very pleased to support the

government’s legislation to establish the office, functions and powers of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner.

The government promised to do more to protect children online and this legislation is a key part of that promise.

The e-Safety Commissioner will take a national leadership role in children’s online safety initiatives across

government to develop and implement policies to improve safety for children online. The commissioner will set

up an effective complaints system and will work closely with police and other government agencies, as well as

the internet industry, child protection organisations and parent and teacher associations. The commissioner will

have the power to issue a notice to a large social media service to remove material and the power to issue a notice

to the person who posted material to remove that material, to refrain from posting material or to apologise.

 

The key here is the words ‘effective complaints system’ because, clearly, that is not what we have now. My local

police believe that rapid take-down powers would be, in their words, a ‘sensational’ new tool to help reduce the

impact of cyberbullying. The key word is ‘rapid’. This is an absolute priority: real-time action.

There is an extreme amount of damage done to the child in a very short amount of time online. Bullying material

can be spread to millions in minutes, with devastating results—millions in minutes. The AFP says that the average

Australian child aged 15-19 has 354 friends on Facebook. It has three main privacy settings: public, friends of

friends and friends only. ‘Public’ means the messages and posts will be viewable by one billion Facebook users

and anyone on the internet. ‘Friends of friends’ means those one removed from you: the friends of your friends.

So with 354 friends on Facebook, that means that up to 215,000 people will see the messages and posts. This is

why the setting should be ‘friends only’, the original 354 or fewer, depending on the number of online friends.

But even 300 can be too many at times. Last year, one school in my electorate dealt with four severe self-harm

cases, where girls had been bullied at their previous schools. Even though their new school was safe, the bullying

followed them online. One threatened suicide and the others had slashed their bodies so badly that they will be

scarred forever. Even though the protagonists were not students at the new school, some students at the new

school were bystanders who watched these incidents unfold online. So here are the words of a wise principal:

‘The Beauty and the Beast of online for a young person: the beauty of having 300 ‘friends’; the beast is when they

watch you suffer and your pain is magnified 300 times.’

Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram were all part of this cycle of bullying. A school in my electorate had taken

on a student who had been bullied at a previous school Even though mobile phones were not allowed in the new

school, a student organised for a group of his friends to video him bullying the new student. It was on YouTube

in 30 minutes and on the front of the local paper in two days. YouTube was difficult to contact and the school

had the frustration of watching the number of views go into the hundreds. The student left the school four weeks

later. The incident itself was bad enough but it was the magnification on social media that caused the greatest

damage. The school was left to defend the safety of the school on TV and radio and in print.

At another school a young girl sent a topless photo of herself to a boy at school. Within seven minutes the principal

was getting calls from parents screaming their disgust. The image had been forwarded to 40 other students and

then to the wider community. These are simple examples of why ‘real-time’ effective and rapid complaints and

take-down notices will be a key role for the commissioner

Equally, I think the engagement with parents will be a key part of the commissioner’s work. Many of the parents

who come to my cybersafety sessions have no idea at all about devices, what their children are doing online,

what they are exposed to or what they could be doing online. Often, they have very limited experience with the

internet and devices and sometimes they just do not want to deal with their children on the ‘hard’ issues—or

simply expect the school to deal with any problems.

Some parents have no idea how to report online bullying to a large social media service. As I said before, children

will often not talk to their parents about the problems because they are scared the parents will take away their

devices, limit their time online or punish them—or a combination of all three.

In my sessions I encourage children to find an adult who will help and not punish. I encourage parents to start the

discussion with the very first device they give their children that is connected to the internet. Some actually have

no idea that the games console or iPod touch has access to the internet. Parents need a single access point for

information and advice, and to be able to report abuse to a social media company properly located in Australia

—to actually be able to talk to someone here and tell them what is happening.

There needs to be a communication partnership between children and parents in this space. Our children are a

big part of the answer here. We need the children to help the parents, grandparents and younger brothers and

sisters with devices and the internet. They have the most knowledge and experience—they are the whizzes with

their devices and apps. But on the other hand, we need the parents to help children with staying safe, managing

online risks and encouragement to stand up to and deal with online bullies.

I cannot stress it enough: communication must start from day one of the first device with internet connectivity.

It is the discussion we share before we buy the first device: about its security strengths and weaknesses, the

agreed rules about how and when it will be used—by all parties, not just children—and how we will manage

the problems and risks we will all face online.

 

The commissioner needs to assist schools in very practical ways. Bullying and social media problems often start

out of school hours but the impacts carry over into schools. There are times when teachers and principals are

literally inundated with cyberbullying complaints I read where new research shows Australian high schools deal

with 22 cyberbullying incidents each year.

The commissioner will gain a clear understanding of the current state, territory and district or regional offices’

protocols and processes in place in the public, private and independent systems to assist schools to deal with social

media, cybersafety and cyberbullying. I would like to see the commissioner recommend pre-service training for

teachers to analyse what the cybersecurity and safety protocols framework is in schools. Do they have the tools

and processes to manage the cyberchallenges faced by students and IT systems?

I would like to see the commissioner develop a simple standard policy, program and procedure to assist schools

to manage cyberbullying and cybersafety incidents, perhaps involving for some incidents mediation—certainly

parents, teachers, AFP and the community—to develop effective processes capable of managing the continuallyevolving

risks at an individual school level.

I would like to see the commissioner inform students, parents and teachers about the legal aspects of

cyberbullying and the upskilling of existing staff with ongoing updates, given the constant changes in devices,

apps and online activities. I would also like to see the commissioner: work with the AFP, ThinkUKnow, state

and local police in delivering cybersafety messages into schools—and they do a great job; assess the process

used to advise state education departments of changes to search engine encryption; and assess state education

departments’ capacity to respond to provide immediate real-time advice to schools in this space, specifically with

changes to search engine encryption when the likes of Google change their encryption.

Appropriate filters must be in place to keep children using school systems safe. Because devices, apps and online

risks change constantly, the commissioner will need continuous, active input from young people, student groups,

schools and teachers, the state and federal police and those in the justice system. Equally, the commissioner will

need to be able to feed the most current information back. I expect the commissioner to examine and, potentially,

to revise the National Safe Schools Framework in relation to covert or online bullying.

I have met the children who are being bullied. I have met those who are self-harming because of it and who are

—or have—considered suicide. I commend this bill to the House, and I believe that there is much more work

to be done in this space.