26 September 2023

New cyber scheme to respond to online abuse

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Australian adults on the receiving end of cyber abuse are to have somewhere to turn for help under a world-first scheme from the eSafety Commission.

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant said the new Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme would allow the Commission to act as a safety net to give adults who had been subjected to serious online abuse somewhere to turn if online service providers failed to act to remove abusive content.

Commissioner Inman Grant said the Scheme would launch on Sunday (23 January), when the new Online Safety Act 2021 came into force.

“If a platform fails to take action, people can come to us to make a report,” she said.

“Our new investigative and information gathering powers will allow us to investigate and assess complaints, and decide what action we can take.

“This ground-breaking Scheme gives us the ability to help those Australian adults who have been subjected to the worst types of online abuse, which is becoming an all-too-common occurrence.”

Commissioner Inman Grant said that if a report met the threshold, eSafety could issue a notice to the platform to get the harmful content removed.

The Commissioner said platforms would have 24 hours to remove the content after receiving a notice and she would be able to seek significant civil penalties for failure to comply with a notice.

“The bar for determining what ‘adult cyber abuse’ is has been set deliberately high, to ensure it does not stifle freedom of speech,” she said.

“We are talking here about the most serious of abusive posts, intended to cause serious psychological or physical harm.

“Under the law, to reach the threshold, the abuse must be both ‘intended to cause serious harm’ and ‘menacing, harassing or offensive in all the circumstances’.”

Commissioner Inman Grant said that finding something offensive or disagreeable would not be enough to qualify as adult cyber abuse under the Act, that the content must also be intended to cause serious harm to an individual.

She said the Scheme was not intended to regulate hurt feelings, purely reputational damage, bad online reviews, strong opinions or banter.

“Even if a matter does not meet the threshold, we will still be able to offer support, information and advice,” Commissioner Inman Grant said.

eSafety’s 13-page Adult Cyber Abuse Scheme Regulatory Guidance can be accessed at this PS News link.

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