With Simon Breheny
Executive summary: The government’s proposed Children’s e-Safety Commissioner represents a serious threat to freedom of speech and digital liberty. The proposed regime would create extraordinary new powers, which would be conferred on a government-appointed digital censor. The power to order certain material to be pulled down from large social media sites also gives discretionary power to a government bureaucrat.
The proposal misdiagnoses the problem of bullying on and offline. Bullying can be a significant and very harmful social problem – whether on or offline. Cyberbullying is not a special case demanding of specific laws. It should be dealt with using the same legal framework as bullying that takes place offline.
The existence of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner will not prevent or protect young people against cyberbullying. There are many forms of harmful online activity that will not be caught by the government’s proposed regime. The regime may also drive cyberbullying to sites that are less easily monitored by parents and guardians. Smaller social media sites are less likely to have rigorously enforced community standards yet the government’s proposal is aimed only at large social media sites.
The proposal also ignores existing remedies. There are a variety of current laws that exist to catch the same conduct that the government seeks to proscribe. Legal remedies for stalking, harassment, intimidation and a range of other unacceptable behaviours are already available to victims of bullying.
The Children’s e-Safety Commissioner may provide a false sense of security among parents that cyberbullying has been dealt with. Some parents may not feel that their own efforts are still necessary when faced with the existence of the government’s cyberbullying program. Parents may fail to employ monitoring and security software believing it to be redundant. However, there will be cases of cyberbullying that are not caught by the government’s scheme but that would have been caught by parental vigilance.