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The Australian House of Representatives recently agreed to the Senate’s amendments and passed the Online Safety Bill 2021. This updated legislation is targeted at mitigating online cyber abuse by forcefully requiring social media platforms to remove harmful online content within 24 hours or risk being fined up to $415,000.

This legislation was created following the incident of the 2019 New Zealand Christchurch Mosque Shooting. During that time, the attacker live streamed several killings on Facebook in real-time. Despite the horrific nature of the attack, the Facebook Live stream lasted for almost 17 minutes, in which two attacks had already occurred, before finally being taken down for inappropriate content. Moreover, due to the weak response time and instant dissemination of content worldwide, this shooting led to similar attacks in other parts of the world. As such, the Online Safety Bill was proposed to enable the Australian eSafety Commission to rapidly block websites in times of crisis.

These powers have broadened over the past two years to cover issues such as the “cyber-bullying of children, toxic online abuse, harmful content and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images”. Additionally, internet service providers will now be required to disclose the identities and contact information of abusers using their service. With penalties reaching up to five years imprisonment, this Bill is designed to deter reoffending behaviour. Social media companies will also now be required to update their internal policies in line with the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Content Scheme to provide a safe online environment.  

Most notably, this new legislation poses a risk to consumer privacy and censorship. The Bill came from good intentions but many now argue that it was rushed without proper consideration for individuals and stakeholders. Digital platforms have also raised red flags as to the overreaching nature of the legislation with Facebook calling this an overstep as to user privacy and messaging encryption, and Twitter noting that smaller digital platforms may struggle to comply with such requests. Google even went on to say that if the eSafety Commissioner removed “one single piece of content [it] could result in a cloud infrastructure and platform service provider being mandated to remove a customer’s entire website”. 

The Bill’s powers will be enforced after six months, and it will be interesting to see whether any public considerations for amendments will take place before then.

For the full reading of the Bill, see here.

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