OPINION: Today’s news that the federal government will introduce the strictest laws in the world when it comes to online trolling will save precious Australian lives.
This historical, legislative and social milestone is setting a standard that the rest of the world should follow, and I believe it will.
Fines of up to $ 111,000 for individuals who abuse, threaten, intimidate, post revenge pornography, intimidate children, and more than half a million dollars for corporations such as Facebook and Twitter, who refuse to remove offensive material or reveal the identities of the perpetrators .
The lack of legislation in the online space affects us all, even if it is not online.
The old attitude of “getting off social media” is no longer enough.
Get the perpetrators out of social media.
Social media is the way millions of Australians stay in touch with loved ones, run businesses, do their jobs, stay connected during pandemics and even if it’s not their cup of tea, they are still vulnerable to attack.
Former Broncos coach Anthony Siebold is not on social media, but his life, and that of his family, was nearly ruined by what was posted online.
The time to change is now. No doubt about it.
There is no downside to stopping the terrible abuse that happens online.
This is not a violation of freedom of expression.
This does not prevent anyone from disagreeing, expressing opinions, being very critical of others or simply being bad; it’s about punishing behaviors that cross a line.
What we consider acceptable behavior in the real world should be reflected in the online space.
There is no longer any difference; now we move seamlessly between both worlds.
If the abuse occurs in a real-world setting, be it domestic, public, workplace or otherwise, there are consequences, often criminal.
The legislation is clear about the illegality of behaviors such as verbal abuse, swearing and continuous humiliation, insults, humiliations, psychological abuse, threats, creating fear, harassment, stalking and intimidation.
When these incidents occur in our society, our common understanding that they are criminal drives public discourse and response.
The time to change is now. No doubt about it.
We would never tell a victim of domestic violence to just “ignore it,” to “stop reading abusive emails or letters,” or to become more resistant.
However, we say this to victims of online abuse.
You put a person who commits a crime under this new legislation on the front page of the newspaper, with their fine in big, bold type, and 90 percent of this behavior will stop.
Once people know that there are real consequences and that they are not anonymous, most will stop.
This fight was never about me.
I have been exposed to some of the vilest abuses imaginable now for over a decade; I see the perpetrators for who they are.
This was not always the case.
The hordes of death threats, threats of physical violence, threats to rape my daughter that have been sent and written about me have taken me to incredibly dark and scary places in the past, and I am strong and resilient.
I have always continued to do my job and head on, I never let them win, but there is no shame in being affected by this type of abuse or showing emotion.
It does not mean that you are weak or vulnerable.
Nor am I a snowflake.
I am in public view and there will always be people who will not like me and will not agree with me, and that is part of my job: it is about when a line is crossed.
I fought and lobbied for stricter legislation on behalf of my daughter, on behalf of her children and on behalf of all Australians.
I know that many families who have lost loved ones to online abuse have fought a similar battle and deserve to be immensely proud today.
This is not the complete answer, but it is a brilliant start.
The focus has had to shift from coping mechanisms for victims to punishments for perpetrators for years, and this legislation begins to do that.
The following correspondence I recently received from a teacher shows this image in heartbreaking detail:
“Very often, children cry at school.
“So very often, children are very anxious and don’t want to come to school. The reason?
“Social networks and bullying / trolling in social networks.
“I would say that about 80 percent of my student wellness time is spent talking to students about problems that have occurred online the night before or over the weekend.
“It is abundant and relentless.
“The amount of harassment, trolling, abuse, intimidation, and genuine cruel behavior that occurs on social media and in online games is astronomical.
“We’ve tried everything from outside professional programs, chaplaincy, counseling and nothing seems to work.
“I just want you to know Erin that I put your editorial in my class during the week. It was phenomenal!
“You could hear a pin drop in the room.
Personally, I have changed my conversations with kids about tying off and just ignoring it.
“Now, I’m going to be tough on the bullies and cowards who are doing the bullying!
“They will be responsible! My students have been referring to him all week and I have sent them the link so that parents can hear it too.… “
Another of the thousands of pieces of correspondence that I have received since I started this fight:
“I hope and pray as an adult and role model in the media that I can be a voice for young people who are bullied and traumatized through social media.
“As the mother of a traumatized teenager … be brave … don’t be just lip service … we need a change … great responsibility … I know.”
I took that message very seriously, I promised him that it would not be just lip service.
I want to thank the government.
I have met with Federal Minister of Communications Paul Fletcher on multiple occasions; he and his team have been phenomenal.
Everyone has worked hard on this.
I met with the Prime Minister, he looked me in the eye and promised that they would do something, and he delivered. Thank my Lord.
Judge Paul Conlon, who was with me from the beginning of this fight; Warren Mundine too; Peta Credlin – Thank you for your insight and insight into how to get things done in the often slow world of legislation. His public and private efforts were incredible.
My sister Felicity, an amazing attorney, thank you for all your advice and support.
For Anthony Siebold, his courage to speak was the true catalyst for change. You should be immensely proud.
No one should have to put up with what you and your family did.
To 60 Minutes, Maddi and Tom, for giving us an important platform, thank you.
To all the thousands of people who reached out and offered support and encouragement, thank you!
To the victims and families who have lost loved ones to online abuse, thank you for fighting too, many of you much harder and for much longer than me.
This will be a long journey, but it has begun and I couldn’t be more grateful.