These days, much of our socialising is done online. Social media platforms make it easy to stay in touch with friends and family, which is particularly important for those currently separated by lockdowns and border restrictions.
In the real world, however, it’s a lot easier to see the effects of our words on the people around us. People have to take responsibility for their actions, which is not always the case when chatting, sharing, and browsing online.
The anonymous nature of the world wide web means that individuals often feel that they can harass, abuse, and bully people without repercussions. In reality, cyberbullying behaviour — including image-based abuse, doxing, and cyberstalking — can have significant real-world consequences.
It’s important that all internet users are aware of their rights and responsibilities as good digital citizens.
What defines cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying, also known as cyber abuse, is defined by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner as ‘behaviour that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone — with the intent to harm them socially, psychologically or even physically’.
Cyberbullying can take the form of:
Humiliating or excluding others online
Creating fake accounts
Sharing intimate photos of someone without their permission — also known as sex-based extortion
Encouraging self harm/suicide
Posting personal details (including location and contact information) online — also known as doxing
Threatening violence or encouraging others to act in a violent manner
We commonly associate cyberbullying with children, who often don’t understand that their words online can affect the person sitting behind the screen. However, cyberbullying and cyber abuse directed towards adults is an increasing problem.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many of us are spending more time online, which has only exacerbated the issue. In April 2020, the eSafety Commissioner revealed a 340 percent increase in complaints regarding cyberbullying, image-based abuse and sex-based extortion, coinciding with the announcement of lockdown laws in Australia.
Australia’s national counselling service, Kids Helpline, also recorded a record number of web searches for the terms ‘sexting’ and ‘cyberbullying’ during the 2020 lockdown periods. Cybersafety for kids has been a growing concern throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as schools were forced to close and switch to remote learning.
Australian cyberbullying laws
Cyberbullying, whether targeting children, teenagers or adults, can have devastating outcomes.
In 2019, headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation revealed that 53 percent of young Australians have been a victim of cyberbullying. In 2018, a young Australian girl took her own life following persistent online abuse, leading to a national conversation around cyberbullying and the responsible use of social media by young people.
It’s not only children who are susceptible to the effects of online abuse. In 2014, high-profile Australian celebrity Charlotte Dawson also died by suicide. Dawson had suffered from Twitter troll attacks for years, and often spoke out about both the behaviour she experienced online and the effect that it had on her mental health.
In response to the ever-increasing number of Australians being targeted by such attacks, the Australian Government has decided to take action. The Coalition government recently put forth a new bill, believed to be a world-first, that targets internet service providers and social media companies. The Online Safety Act proposes that these platforms must remove abusive, harmful content within 24 hours of it being posted or else risk being blocked and fined up to $550,000.
Individuals who engage in bullying behaviour and refuse to remove harmful content face fines of up to $111,000. This directive already existed for situations in which an adult was bullying a child. However, the bill proposes extending the scope to include adults bullying other adults in recognition of the growing effects of cyber abuse. The proposed legislation also covers internet platforms that were previously exempt from such laws, such as gaming websites and messaging services.
Cyberbullying is often conducted by anonymous individuals, which means it can be difficult to track down the offender and prevent future attacks from occurring. The bill would also grant the eSafety Commissioner the power to unmask anonymous accounts who share abusive or illegal material.
Who you can turn to for help
The Online Safety Act is currently being drafted. Once in place, the Act will hopefully enable Australians to chat, share, and browse online without the threat of cyber abuse.
Until then, there is a range of resources that you can access to help you stay safe online. If you are currently experiencing online abuse, or are feeling unsafe, consider reaching out to the following organisations:
Remember — the internet is for all of us. Treat others the way you want to be treated and respect everyone you come into contact with in the online world. Don’t be afraid to speak out if you witness cyberbullying and know that there are many people who you can turn to for help.
Norton empowers people and families around the world to feel safer in their digital lives
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