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Cyberbullying is out of control, new legislation aims to silence the haters

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Social media addiction is one of the driving forces behind the disturbing number of cyberbullies trolling the globe. It’s hoped new legislation will curb the hate.

The Australian Federal Government’s Online Safety Bill is expected to force popular social media platforms like Facebook and Google to remove harmful material within 24 hours of it being posted or face the consequences.

“The Act provides stronger powers for the eSafety Commissioner to crack down on cyber-bullying of children, toxic online abuse, harmful content and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images,” Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said of the new laws that will also require internet service companies to provide ID and contact details about abusers on their platforms.

Cyberbullying can take on many forms, including personal attacks, harassment or discriminatory behaviour, spreading defamatory information, misrepresenting oneself online, cyberstalking, social exclusion and the dissemination of private information.

No individual or business is exempt from these kinds of attacks, and in most cases the keyboard warriors launching them are hidden behind anonymous profiles.

Everyday hundreds of Australians are bullied in these ways, some to breaking point. High-profile victims have included NRL commentator Erin Molan, who petitioned hard for the implementation of the new legislation after being consistently trolled online; model Charlotte Dawson and 14-year-old schoolgirl Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett, who were bullied to their deaths.

Cyberbullying in the business world can be linked to the collapse of many small businesses. False claims, bad reviews, trolling and harassment unfortunately are a way of life now for many small business owners.

A recent submission to the ACCC reported that the current collective costs to Australian businesses in attempting to mitigate Cyberbullying attacks (unsuccessfully counter defending) and the associated loss in productivity is estimated to be in the region of A$10 billion per annum.

Cyberbullying is a global problem, so much so that even companies like Cadbury Dairy Milk are taking it upon themselves to launch anti-bullying campaigns.
This week, the chocolate company rolled out the second phase of its #HeartTheHate campaign, a campaign that follows on from the insights drawn from a recent poll that alerted them to some alarming statistics around cyberbullying.

And while we know online attacks are not new, the cyber hate levelled at elite athletes like Japanese table tennis player Jun Mizutani at the Tokyo Olympic Games have highlighted the extent of the issue.

Mizutani, who won gold in the mixed doubles with Mima Ito, revealed on Twitter that he had received abusive direct messages from both overseas and domestic users, messages telling him to ‘Go Die’ and ‘You are a piece of (expletive)’.

It really has gone too far, and could be attributed to the increased number of hours society is spending ‘connected’.

“There are some people who engage in cyberbullying online because of the anonymity and the fact that there’s no retaliation,” said Amanda Giordano, principal investigator of a recent study into cyberbullying behaviours.

The associate professor in the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education said that oftentimes adolescents in particular are more aggressive or critical on social media because of the anonymity they have online and their ability to avoid retaliation.

“The perpetrator doesn’t get a chance to see how damaging their bullying is and to learn from their mistakes and do something different,” Ms Giordano added. “It’s a scary situation because they don’t have the natural consequences they do with offline bullying.”

She suggested that social networking sites were designed to give people a dopamine hit, she added, and some people compulsively look for that hit.
“It’s feeding into that addictive behaviour, and they may be using cyberbullying as a way to get likes, shares, comments and retweets,” she said.

“That’s the common thread you see in behavioural addictions – people start relying on rewarding behaviour to make them feel better when they’re experiencing negative emotions. And so, I think the social media addiction piece is really interesting to show that there’s another factor at play here in addition to the number of hours spent online.”

The Online Safety Bill was developed in response to the live-streamed terror attacks in New Zealand in 2019, and includes penalties for online abuse and harassment, including up to five years’ jail.

It is expected the powers will come into effect within the next six months.

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