Australia Commences New Online Safety Laws to Protect Aussies From ‘Vicious’ Online Abuse

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at
January 24, 2022Updated: January 24, 2022

Australia’s new online safety measures came into force on Sunday, which could mean social media platforms are now able to be forced to take down offending posts and, in some cases, unmask the identity of anonymous posters.

The wide-ranging Online Safety Act, which passed in 2021, grants new powers to eSafety commissioner Julie Inman Grant. She said the new rule would make online service providers “more accountable” for the safety of people who use their services and protect Australians experiencing serious cyber abuse.

Under the Act, Australian adults and children can report online harm to the commissioner. After a removal notice is issued, the platform must take down the reported post within 24 hours or risk a fine of up to 500 penalty units—up to $111,000 for individuals (US$79,400) and up to $555,000 for companies (US$39,000).

The new changes would see big tech companies compelled to develop new codes to regulate illegal and restricted “seriously harmful material.” This includes content showing child sexual abuse or acts of terrorism, and content considered inappropriate for children, such as high-impact violence and pornography.

Additionally, eSafety can require social media providers to consistently report how they are responding to online harm under a new benchmark called the Basic Online Safety Expectations.

“The scheme is not intended to regulate hurt feelings, purely reputational damage, bad online reviews, strong opinions or banter,” Grant said. “Serious harm could include material which sets out realistic threats, places people in real danger, is excessively malicious or is unrelenting.”

Logos of the Big Tech giants are displayed on a tablet on Oct. 1, 2019. (Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images)

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Seven Network on Monday the new laws would offer “protections for Australians who are subject to vicious, online abuse,” and that what victims of cyberbullying want is “to have the material taken down as quickly as possible.”

This is echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who stated “the vindictive nastiness has to be brought under control, and the people who have to control it are the people making money out of it.”

“The premise should remain with the person who makes the money, and that is Facebook and Instagram,” Joyce said.

But Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon doubts whether the new laws would have much of an impact.

“The impact of bullying on the playground is immediate, no matter where it occurs, but in the playground, you get kicked out of the play area,” he said. “This is not kicking anyone off social media, I am not sure whether that is legally or technically possible.”

Meanwhile, Mental Health Australia chairman Matt Berriman argued that “quite simply, big tech and social media companies will put profit over people.”

He told the committee on Friday: “We cannot trust big tech and social media to moderate themselves despite their many hollow promises.”

In its submission to Parliament, Facebook parent company Meta suggested the Committee “should focus its attention on whether the slew of regulations is effective or necessary” given the recent history of “active” rule-making.

“Policymakers should be alive to the risk of overlapping, duplicative or inconsistent rules across different laws,” the submission said.

AAP contributed to this article.