Putting a stop to cyberbullying

Putting a stop to cyberbullying

Is the government not doing enough to prevent cyberbullying? Is an e-safety commissioner too much for the task? Will implementing such a proposal compromise an Australian's freedom of speech?

"If you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all. Let's put a stop to cyber bullying #zerotrollerance" - Samantha Jade

When Aussie singer Samantha Jade posted a picture of herself holding up a sign reading #zerotrollerance (that is, zero-TROLL-erance), she sparked a spirited debate about cyberbullying amongst her Facebook followers.

The bulk of the comments posted suggest that cyberbullying is something simply to overcome on a personal level, not so much by way of a proposed new government commission. Looking at the issue objectively, though, we tend to think that a little bit of both is in order.

On the one hand, cyberbullying can only happen if we allow it to, socially. If it's perceived as a shameful thing (akin to public nose picking or wearing dirty clothes - though admittedly worse than either), then cyberbullying might fall out of favour.

On the other hand, shoplifting has long been frowned upon, but there still needs to be a law against it. Having laws explicitly against cyberbullying supports the social pressure to refrain from doing it.

Let's have a closer look at the proposed e-safety commissioner, intended to tackle cyberbullying.

Safety vs. censorship?

An installment of the radio program, Law Report, pointedly asks the question, "Can a cyber-bullying commissioner protect our kids?"

As the article points out, the government is proposing the creation of a child e-safety commissioner with the authority to demand immediate action by social media sites needing to remove material that might be harmful to a child.

Of course, this proposal immediately brings on those who claim that such measures amount to a form of censorship that will put free speech in question.

The free speech issue is the basis of a strongly-worded press release decrying the Australian proposal issued by AIMIA and Electronic Frontiers Australia. But Matthew Keeley, director of the National Children's and Youth Law Centre at the University of New South Wales, is quick to dismiss that argument.

He is quoted in the Law Report transcript as stating, "The free speech argument, used the way that the industry is suggesting it in this cyber-bullying space, would also be an argument for doing nothing about schoolyard bullying."

"Surely the argument, if it's to hold in this space for cyber-bullying, then it must also hold for schoolyard bullying, that teachers cannot interfere where one young person abusing their power over another chooses to speak freely and to vilify, to harass and to bully another through words."

Keeley goes on to call the free speech argument "silly," as it affects only those who attempt to bully a person under the age of 18.

That's certainly a reasonable case; however, we are left to wonder it the commissioner is the answer, or if a specific set of laws and penalties would be more appropriate in dealing with cyberbullying, as opposed to on-the-fly censoring of posts, presumably at the whim of the commissioner.

What do you think?

Where do you stand on this issue? Is the government not doing enough to prevent cyberbullying? Is an e-safety commissioner too much for the task? Will implementing such a proposal compromise an Australian's freedom of speech?

We all know something must be done and it probably comes down to a whole lot of prevention, coupled with some fitting penalties, but who knows if a commission is the right idea?

In the meantime, if you hear, see, or get word of cyberbullying, we urge you to use the following resources to report and stop it:

Let's Start a project. Get in touch!