Tips on how to stay safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 Alert

Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) it may take longer than usual to address all reports or enquiries made with our investigation teams.

Please continue to submit reports and we will review them as soon as possible.

If you are worried about your safety or are at risk of harm right now contact police immediately by calling Triple Zero (000).

If you need someone to talk to and are under 25, contact Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).
For all other ages, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Our legislative functions

The eSafety Commissioner has various functions and powers, under Australian Government legislation, to foster online safety.

The eSafety Commissioner was established as an independent statutory office under the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 (Cth).  

Many of the functions of the Commissioner are set out in section 15 of the Act.

Initially, these functions primarily related to enhancing online safety for Australian children. In 2017, the Act was amended to expand the Commissioner's remit to promoting and enhancing online safety for all Australians. 

The eSafety Commissioner also has powers and functions under:

  • schedules 5 of 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)
  • section 581 (2A) of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)
  • section 5 of the Enhancing Online Safety (Protecting Australians from Terrorist or Violent Criminal Material) Legislative Rule 2019
  • sections 474.35 and 474.36 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Powers relating to cyberbullying

The Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 gives the Commissioner the power to investigate and act on complaints about serious cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child.

The Act establishes a two-tiered scheme for the removal of cyberbullying material from participating social media services. The two tiers of the scheme are subject to different levels of regulatory oversight:

  • Social media services participate in Tier 1 of the scheme on an opt-in basis.
  • Social media services that are declared Tier 2 services by the Minister for Communications may be subject to legally binding notices and civil penalties for non-compliance with requests from the Commissioner.

Read more about how the social media Tier Scheme works, and the social media services participating in it. 

In addition, the Commissioner has powers to issue notices to individuals who post cyberbullying material and request that they take the material down, refrain from posting further cyberbullying material or apologise to the child who is the target.

Under the Act, the Commissioner may share information with parents, guardians, teachers and school principals in order to support the resolution of a cyberbullying complaint. In some cases, the Commissioner may disclose information to the police so they can investigate whether any criminal laws have been broken. Youth Law Australia has more information on the criminal laws that may apply to cyberbullying in your state or territory.

Find out more about cyberbullying complaints and reporting.

Powers relating to image-based abuse

The Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 establishes a civil penalties scheme that allows the Commissioner to help with the removal of intimate images or videos from online platforms. In some cases, the Commissioner may also be able to take action against the person responsible for the image-based abuse.

The scheme gives eSafety the power to give enforceable removal notices to social media services, websites, hosting providers and perpetrators, requiring the removal of intimate material.

The civil penalties scheme also gives eSafety a range of powers to take action against perpetrators, such as by:

  • issuing a formal warning
  • giving a remedial direction
  • issuing an infringement notice
  • accepting an enforceable undertaking
  • seeking an injunction or civil penalty order in Court.

Find out more about image-based abuse complaints and reporting.

Powers relating to illegal and harmful online content

Online content scheme

The Commissioner also administers the Online Content Scheme under Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).

Under this scheme, the Commissioner may investigate valid complaints about online content, and take action on material found to be prohibited or potentially prohibited. This includes child sexual abuse material.

The Online Content Scheme interconnects with the role of law enforcement and with the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE), which combats online child sexual abuse.

The scheme is underpinned by the National Classification Scheme that also applies to films, computer games and publications.

Find out more about What we can investigate under the online content scheme. 

Abhorrent violent material

Amendments made to the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) after the Christchurch terrorist attacks in 2019 created new offence provisions relating to abhorrent violent material (AVM). 

The Act defines AVM as audio, visual or audio-visual material created by a perpetrator or an accomplice that records or streams: 
•    a terrorist act leading to serious injury or death
•    murder or attempted murder
•    torture 
•    rape
•    kidnapping involving violence or the threat of violence. 

Under the amendments, the eSafety Commissioner may issue an AVM notice to a website or its hosting service if they are providing access to AVM. Failure by a website or hosting service to remove access to the material may constitute a criminal offence. 

Commonwealth law enforcement agencies are responsible for prosecuting this offence, however any prosecution first requires the consent of the Attorney-General. 

For more information, see The actions we can take.

Directions to service providers

The Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) provides that the eSafety Commissioner may give written directions to a carrier or a service provider in connection with any of the Commissioner’s functions and powers.

Following the Christchurch attack, the Commissioner gave a direction in connection with her function of promoting online safety for Australians by protecting them from access or exposure to material that promotes, incites, or instructs in, terrorist acts or violent crimes. The direction required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to temporarily block websites providing access to the perpetrator’s video and manifesto.

Since then, the Commissioner has developed a protocol with the Communications Alliance — an organisation representing Australia’s communications sector — to set out how a similar direction to ISPs would work in an ‘online crisis event’.

For more information, see The actions we can take.

Industry obligations

The Commissioner also has powers under Schedule 5 and Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act relating to industry codes of practice. 

More information about these codes can be found on the website of the Communications Alliance, the industry body that oversees them.