The Federal Government’s recently-established Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner will play a key role in supporting Australian school students who experience serious cyberbullying and aim to help guide all students towards positive online experiences and interactions.
The Office was established under the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Act 2015, which took effect on July 1st, and is led by online safety expert Alastair MacGibbon who was appointed to the role of Children’s eSafety Commissioner.
“When I talk to people most of them are concerned in same way or another about the way in which their children are interacting with technology,” MacGibbon told Education Matters. “In particular they’re concerned about the effect of people mistreating each other with technology and the catastrophic impact that can have upon a child and the family.
“The significance [of the establishment of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner] is that this is a recognition that we need to deal specifically with the issue of cyberbullying and the Act clearly gives us powers in relation to cyberbullying, but also equally importantly the Office carries on and builds upon the good work that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was doing in its Cybersmart education programs.
“I see my role as both, in a regulatory capacity dealing with certain types of behaviour online, but perhaps more importantly preventing problems from happening in the first place. Because that’s the only way children will be able to unlock and engage the full power of technology and they’ll only do that if they feel safe in doing so.”
Under the new arrangements, social media companies remain the first port of call for those under 18 who want cyberbullying material taken down. If the material is not removed within 48 hours, they can come to the Office to complain.
The Commissioner will operate a complaints system backed by the new legislation to get harmful cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child down quickly from large social media sites.
Under the laws the Commissioner has the power to issue a notice to a large social media service requiring it to remove cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child and he will also have the power to issue a notice to a person who has posted cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child, requiring the person to remove the material.
MacGibbon said although schools have been dealing with cyberbullying for a long time, and responsible schools have always acted, the Office provides a better tool to help schools continue those actions.
“We provide an avenue to escalate matters to hopefully assist children, and therefore schools, particularly when it comes to cyberbullying complaints,” he said. “We will be able to, once the child or trusted adult has complained to the social media service and it hasn’t been taken further, reach out to that social media service to take that material down. So we act as a safety net.
“Schools are often going to be the best organisation to deal with the matter because online bullying is probably manifesting itself in an offline way as well, but we also know the online bullying can be quite damaging and vicious, and can follow children around 24 hours a day, and that’s problematic for them.”
Along with the Office’s role as a support network and educator it has received $7.5 million funding over three years to assist schools in accessing accredited online safety programs as a voluntary certification program for online safety experts is slated for release later this year.
For online safety information and resources, or to make a complaint about cyberbullying material or illegal online content, visit www.esafety.gov.au.