Australia passes law to reduce online bullying

SYDNEY • Australia's government has passed legislation to reduce cyber abuse, allowing it to force social media platforms such as Facebook and Google to remove harmful material within 24 hours or be fined as much as US$415,000 (S$558,000).

The Online Safety Bill will also require Internet-service companies to provide identity and contract information about abusers on their platforms. Developed in response to the live-streamed terrorist attacks in New Zealand in 2019, the Bill gives Australia's eSafety Commissioner powers to block websites.

It also strengthens penalties for online abuse and harassment, including up to five years imprisonment.

The Bill will require companies to keep an updated online content scheme to do more to keep users safe online. It gives the eSafety Commissioner powers to require app stores to remove products enabling the provision of harmful content.

The Bill's opponents, including Australian Greens, say it was rushed through without proper scrutiny and has to be redrafted.

The Electronic Frontiers Australia non-profit group wrote in a March 2 submission that the Bill "allows individuals far too much leeway to censor the communications of Australians, no matter what those individuals say they plan to do".

US Internet giants have taken a more collaborative approach with this law than in their opposition to the government's push to force them to pay for news.

Facebook has said it supports the online abuse initiative, but is concerned about regulatory overreach with the extension of cyber-bullying takedown requests into private messaging.

Twitter raised concern about creating an onerous burden for smaller players, saying "it is critically important to avoid placing requirements across the digital ecosystem that only large, mature companies can reasonably comply with".

Alphabet's Google had urged the government to narrow the scope of the measure, as it could impose takedown responsibilities on cloud and Web infrastructure providers.

"A request from the eSafety Commissioner to remove one single piece of content could result in a cloud infrastructure and platform service provider being mandated to remove a customer's entire website and we suggest that this is not a desirable outcome," the company wrote in its submission to the government.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2021, with the headline Australia passes law to reduce online bullying. Subscribe