Australia leads the world in helping kids stand up to online bullies

Australia’s world-first cyberbullying scheme is set to be significantly expanded to provide protection to children being bullied in online games and on private messaging platforms, according to new regulatory guidance released by the eSafety Commissioner.

eSafety’s current cyberbullying scheme, which is still the only one of its kind in the world, has been protecting Australian children from bullying on social media platforms for the past six years, but with the boom in online gaming and private messaging, updates to the scheme were needed.  

The release of the new regulatory guidance comes as eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant is set to give a virtual speech this week at the World Anti Bullying Forum in Stockholm, Sweden, outlining eSafety’s core approach to this complex problem through education, regulation, and the promotion of systemic industry change to prioritise safety.   

“Technology never stays still for long, and neither do kids, who are always moving on to the next popular game or app, so we need to keep pace,” Ms Inman Grant said.   

“We know that around 1 in 5 kids have experienced bullying when playing online games and the more social media and gaming profiles they have, the greater the risk they face of being bullied. New research we’ll be releasing in early 2022 shows that 60% of children with up to 5 social media and gaming profiles report being bullied online. If they have 10 or more profiles this increases to 70%.  

“Kids are now spending a large proportion of their lives online, whether it’s watching TV, gaming, or chatting with friends through popular messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Discord. In fact, a third of our cyberbullying reports have occurred over encrypted private messaging platforms. These new updates allow us to help children in more places where they are spending their online time.”   

Covid-19 has also turbo charged online bullying and last year we also saw a 30% increase in cyberbullying reports compared to 2019.   

The updates to the cyberbullying scheme are a key part of Australia’s new Online Safety Act and will also include a reduced timeframe platforms have to remove bullying content once they receive a notice from eSafety, down from 48 to 24 hours.   

As part of her speech to the World Anti Bullying Forum, Ms Inman Grant will also deliver some good news about the positive impacts prevention programs like those offered by eSafety are having on this issue. 

“While our latest research shows close to half (45%) of children said they had been treated in a hurtful or nasty way online, we are now seeing more children taking control and taking protective action,” Ms Inman Grant said.  

“Back in 2017, only 46 percent of young people blocked or unfriended someone online. In 2020, we have seen 64 percent of young people taking these important steps.  

“And less children are suffering in silence, with 66% of kids willing to talk to a parent or friend if something goes wrong online. This is up from 55% in 2017. 

“I think this shows that the messages are getting through and children and their parents are feeling more empowered to take action against this often insidious form of abuse.”  

The update to Australia’s cyberbullying scheme is the first in a series of new regulatory guidance to be released by eSafety between now and the end of the year.

The expanded cyberbullying scheme will begin operation on 23 January next year. 

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