In late 2021, the Australian Government took several steps toward protecting Australians from vilification, harassment, bullying and defamation on social media. From 2019 to 2020, reports in online bullying threats rose by 30% and studies have shown a significant correlation between time spent on social media and poor mental health outcomes. In response, Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, has spoken out about the harmful reality of online ‘trolls’ hiding behind a veil of anonymity to say “foul and offensive things… social media has become a coward’s palace”.

In October 2021, Attorney General Michaelia Cash released the exposure draft of the Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures) Bill 2021. The new requirements introduced are designed specifically to protect children, including the requirement that parental consent is obtained for users under the age of 16, and that companies take ‘all reasonable steps’ to verify a user’s age.

Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has praised the world-leading legislative changes, advocating that laws need to keep pace with rapid changes in technology and increased risk of threats. Two specific practices of social media companies that allow harmful online interactions to flourish are the ability of online users to create multiple ‘fake’ accounts without providing verifiable documentation and the practice of simply suspending suspect accounts without making any attempt to prevent recidivism.

The Online Safety Act 2021 came into effect on the 23rd of January 2022 and contains penalties of up to $110,000 for individuals who abuse, threaten, intimidate, or bully online. These penalties go towards highlighting for online trolls that there are in fact real consequences for their actions, and that hiding behind anonymous profiles is no longer an option.

Another step in the direction of protecting social media users was the decision in Fairfax Media Publications v Voller heard in the High Court of Australia in September 2021. The judgment of Chief Justice Susan Kiefel along with Justices Patrick Keane and Jacqueline Gleeson upheld the NSW Court of Appeal’s decision that news outlets were liable for comments made by third parties. The reasoning behind the decision was that although the platform hadn’t written or authorised the harmful comments, they had had facilitated and encouraged comments from third-party users, thus making them publishers of the content.

If you would like to discuss any issues regarding adverse social media in your workplace, please contact Daniel Morgan on 0412 425 568.


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