The Internet can be a double-edged sword. While it’s wonderful that people from all walks of life have an easily accessible shared space within which they can communicate and share ideas, it’s an unfortunate fact that not everyone contributes to that space constructively or responsibly.
Screens can embolden people in ways that are both good and bad. While they can empower shy or marginalised people to speak out about the things they care about, screens can also provide individuals with a degree of separation and a sense of anonymity that leads to them saying or doing uncharacteristically offensive or dangerous things.
Offensive or illegal content can be distressing for anyone to witness, but it can be particularly problematic for young children. While many parents adopt safeguards such as monitoring their child’s device or utilising parental controls, these measures are not always guaranteed to prevent children from witnessing inappropriate or potentially harmful material.
If you or your child encounter offensive or illegal content online, it’s important to know that there are certain actions you can take, including:
- Utilising the ‘report abuse’ function on the app/website the bullying took place on
- Blocking the user
- Collecting evidence by taking screenshots of the abusive content
- Making an official complaint to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner
- Requesting for the content to be removed
- Notifying the police
Reporting Offensive and Illegal Content
Content that is upsetting or distressing for some people may not necessarily be deemed offensive or illegal. Such instances are sometimes due to a simple difference in opinion or core values, and therefore third-party intervention is not warranted. Other times, however, a third-party investigation is needed in order to mediate, escalate, or resolve the issue.
Most websites have their own, internal reporting mechanisms which are governed by local law and the site’s individual guidelines. In some cases, situations can be resolved by contacting the site administrators (though, on Facebook, a public post can take days, or even weeks, to be reviewed) while others may call for additional intervention.
The Office of the eSafety commissioner co-ordinates and leads the online safety efforts of government, industry and the not-for-profit community. It has a broad remit which includes providing:
- A complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying
- Identifying and removing illegal online content
- Tackling image-based abuse
Please note that the following steps must be followed prior to submitting a report with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner:
- Report the abuse to social media service where it took place
- Collect evidence of the abuse (e.g. screenshots)
If the content has not been removed from the social media service within 48 hours, a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner can be made.
The cyberReport team, headed by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, investigates complaints from Australian residents and law enforcement agencies about offensive and illegal online content. They do not investigate the content contained in personal communications such as emails, instant messages, SMS, MMS and voice calls.
The process followed and the actions taken will vary depending on the seriousness of the content and where it’s located. The Office has had 100% compliance from industry when requesting that prohibited material hosted within Australia be taken down.
What Can & Can’t Be Investigated
In accordance with their guidelines, prohibited material can include content that is or appears to be:
- Child sexual abuse/child abuse
- Advocating a terrorist act
- Promoting incitement or instruction in crime
- Sexually explicit adult material
- Extreme or offensive content
- Inappropriate contact with child/suspected grooming
- A privacy breach or identity theft
- Copyright infringement/intellectual property
- Defamation, cyberbullying, or harassment
- A computer virus
- Inciting self-harm
The cyberReport team is only able to investigate complaints about offensive and illegal online activity. “Priority is given to serious content such as child sexual abuse material, pro-terrorist content and content that promotes, incites or instructs in crime or violence. This type of material is known as Refused Classification (RC) content and is prohibited online.”
For example, Refused Classification content includes material containing:
- Child sexual abuse material
- Material that advocates terrorist activity
- Detailed instruction or promotion in crime/violence
- Instruction in paedophilic activity
- Gratuitous, exploitative and offensive depictions of violence / sexual violence
Cyberbullying and Harassment
If an Australian child is a victim of cyberbullying you can submit a complaint directly to the Office.
Adult victims of serious cyberbullying and online harassment, stalking or threats can make a report to ACORN.
If the bullying and harassment are occurring on social media, it’s worth reporting the inappropriate activity on the site as well.
If you have experienced image-based abuse, there are a number of actions you can take, including: reporting the material on the applicable social media service or website, making a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, and in some instances, you may also need to contact the police.
If you have concerns about defamation, it’s recommended that you seek independent legal advice. You should also contact the website administrators to request that the content is removed.
Complaints about the mishandling of personal details by a Commonwealth or ACT government agency, or a private sector organisation can be made to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
The Australian Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying based on a person’s sex, disability, race or age.
If your personal safety is at risk, please contact your local police. If you are in immediate danger call Triple Zero (000). You may also wish to seek independent legal advice to determine other avenues of action.
To lodge a complaint or for more information, please visit www.esafety.gov.au
If you encounter child sexual abuse material online, please report it via our online content complaint form. If you are concerned about criminal activity — including online paedophile activity — please contact your local police or call Crime Stoppers toll free on 1800 333 000. Reports to Crime Stoppers can be made anonymously.
(*Cover image courtesy of Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash)