Be aware of what you say online or you could find yourself in court
In recent weeks the Federal Government has been working on introducing new legislation. These new laws have been dubbed “anti-troll” legislation, and specifically focus on cyberbullying. The laws, if enacted, would require companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Google etc, to reveal users’ identities and they also provide a clearer pathway for victims of cyberbullying to sue petetrators.
New laws to target online bullies
Even though the proposed new laws have been called the “toughest in the world”, experts don’t actually believe they will do what they intend – stop or significantly reduce the incidences of online bullying.
The experts say that more onus needs to be placed on the platforms themselves to exercise a duty of care. In many other countries, social media companies, website owners, IT companies and online platforms face significant financial penalties if they don’t act quickly to shut down ‘anti-social’ behaviour.
Nevertheless, one significant change to the legislation is that the responsibility for defamatory, racist, or threatening posts will be transferred back to social media organizations themselves, not the people who are ‘administrators’ for the pages. And this is a good thing because most people who run social media pages, like community groups, unless they’re professional social media managers or journalists, don’t usually have a thorough understanding of defamation law and could inadvertently find themselves in trouble without fully understanding why.
What is also important is that the legislation makes it easier to pursue a civil case against a poster of content that could be considered defamatory, trolling or online hate.
Protecting freedom of speech, but ensuring users remain respectful
Of course, the legislation must balance freedom of speech with ensuring safeguards for protecting the personal reputation of users, and users themselves from the psychological and emotional harm that can be caused by bullying and other online misconduct.
It’s important to note that the legislation has not passed, and it may undergo some changes before it is finally enshrined into law. But it’s equally important for us all to remember to be careful what we say online. As the saying goes: “the internet has a long memory.” Even when you think you have deleted your comments, they can still be retrieved.
Social media offers us a wonderful global melting pot – an incredible opportunity for an exchange of opinions and ideas. But it stands to reason that we’re not going to agree with everyone we converse with.
So, if you find yourself angry or frustrated, walk away from the keyboard and take a few deep breaths before responding. It’s ok to disagree, just do it respectfully. There’s no need for foul language, name calling or provoking someone else. If the new legislation passes, all of these could potentially be considered criminal offences.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, messaging apps, or online in social media, forums, or through online gaming platforms where people can view, participate in, or share content. It includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. Or sharing personal content about someone without their consent.
It is considered particularly harmful, not just because it causes stress and anxiety and depression, but because the nature of digital technologies allow for it to continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week which exacerbates its effect.
What to do if you have been a victim of cyberbullying or trolling or online hate
- Shut down the bully by ignoring them. Block them from further conversation and make sure that you are safe – that the perpetrator cannot access you via other means – your phone, for example.
- DO NOT delete the messages / interaction. Keep screenshots, or the message history.
- Contact the platform where the bullying occured, whether it’s a dating site, social media app, or website. You should always contact the site administrators and report the bullying.
- You can also report your circumstances to the Federal Government agency, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, via this link.
- If you wish to make a police report, then contact your local station for advice.
If you have been accused of cyberbullying, then you need to seek professional legal advice because some forms of cyberbullying can be determined to be serious criminal offences.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.
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