The Online Hate Prevention Institute congratulates the Australian Government on the passage of the “Enhancing Online Safety for Children Bill 2014” through the Senate yesterday. The new laws empower the Government to fine social media companies up to $17,000 per day if they fail to remove cyberbullying content targeting children in reasonable time.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is Australia’s only dedicated harm prevention charity in the online space. The Federal Coalition has been consulting with OHPI on work in this area since 2012, and we pleased to see the positive impact these consultations have had on what will now be Australian law.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute’s CEO, Dr Andre Oboler, congratulated The Hon Paul Fletcher MP on steering this work to fruition. He stated that, “Mr Fletcher and his committee have methodically worked to address a vital gap in our laws. That gap allowed multibillion dollar foreign companies to disclaim any responsibility for an environment, which they create and control, which put Australian children. The risk is not only of bullying, but ultimately of self harm and suicide. Until now Australia has lagged behind other countries, such as Italy and France, where the courts have routinely held the platforms liable for where there has been inaction contributing to increased harm to an individual or to the public. With the passage of this bill, the boundaries of lawlessness and unaccountability are being pushed back.”

Dr Oboler went on to note recent comments by the Attorney General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, that “We must move beyond the notion some people still have that the internet, social media, are a lawless space”. Dr Oboler noted that, “since its founding a little over three years ago, the vision of the Online Hate Prevention Institute has been for online hate in all its forms to be as unacceptable as real world hate. Online hate takes many forms, and in no case should content that would be unacceptable on the public street be excused simply because it was posted online. It doesn’t matter if it is cyberbullying of children or in the workplace, the promotion of violent extremism, racial vilification, religious vilification, online violence against women, homophobia, attacks on people with disabilities, or even ‘political attacks’ that cross the line by targeting politicians’ families, whatever for the hate takes, the internet must not be a shield that enables and encourages violent and anti-social behaviour.”

The Online Hate Prevention Institute’s online reporting tool Fight Against Hate, http://fightagainsthate.com, was launched last December by Mr Fletcher. The tool lets the public register online hate they have reported to social media companies, then tracks how the social media companies respond, including their response time. So far 1374 reports relating to 894 unique items on social media have been logged. During March the software is supporting a global campaign against online antisemitism, including promotion of extremism, following the deadly attacks in Paris and Denmark earlier this year.

The Internet is a valuable resource, but it can also be a very dangerous place. The Online Hate Prevention Institute warmly welcomes the Government’s leadership on improving online safety, and the Parliament’s bipartisan support for these developments. We look forward to lending our expertise to further developments in keeping Australians safe from online hate in all its forms.