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Children's e-Safety laws target social media and cyber bullying

The Government is introducing a Children's e-Safety Commissioner to target online bullying, with powers to fine social media sites and force offending online posts to be taken down.

Social services such as Facebook could soon face cyber bullying crackdowns. Facebook

The Federal Government has moved to crack down on cyber bullying with new legislation that targets social media sites and allows individual posts and offending material to be taken offline.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher introduced the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014 to parliament today with the goal of protecting the 20 percent of 8-to-17 year olds that he said have been victims of bullying online. The bill also sets up a Children's e-Safety Commissioner to police cyber bullying and keep social media sites in check.

According to the legislation, cyber-bullying material constitutes anything seen to be "seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating" to Australians under the age of 18 on social media or through digital communication.

The definition excludes commercial and business communications, but does include a broad range of digital services including email, instant messaging and chat, SMS and MMS, online gaming services, and large social media services that connect two or more users.

The Act establishes two tiers of social media services to ensure "rapid removal" of offending material. In basic terms, a tier 1 service may be requested to remove material while a tier 2 service can be given a notice requiring its removal, as well as penalties for failing to do so. Tier 1 services can also be bumped up a tier if they don't comply with requests.

But it's not just major social services in the cross-hairs -- there is also scope to target individual offenders with "end-user notices" that require them to remove bullying material, stop further posts and "apologise for posting the material". Serious matters can also be referred to the police.

As part of the raft of changes, the new Children's e-Safety Commissioner will be required to stay across the different social media services used by children across Australia. According to Fletcher, the Commissioner will make the ultimate judgements on whether material is considered cyber bullying, recognising that teenagers "may use swear words or language that is considered derogatory" online but that "minor, trivial or frivolous in nature is not cyber bullying".

When it comes to penalties, social media service providers can be issued with a notice to remove offending material within 48 hours. The legislation sets the penalty for failing to comply at 100 penalty units, and with a fine of AU$170 per penalty unit, major social media providers could face a AU$17,000 bill if they fail to act on posts the Commissioner deems to be cyber bullying.

The Children's e-Safety Commissioner will also be responsible for administering and accrediting online child safety programs, with AU$7.5 million allocated to schools to pay for these programs.