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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 3830

Online Safety

Dear Mrs Wicks

Thank you for your letter of 5 December 2017 about petition PN0154 where petitioners have requested for the minimum age requirements on social media platforms to be raised from 13+ years of age to 15+.

Australian children are immersing themselves in the online world through social networking sites, online games, smartphones and tablets. However, it is an unfortunate consequence that this can occasionally leave them vulnerable to harmful content or behaviours online.

I note the concerns of petitioners about the physical and mental effects of social media use in children under the age of 15. Major social media providers are private companies, many of which are based in the United States of America. Decisions about who these providers allow to use their services are matters for these providers to decide. The Government does not seek to intervene in the business decisions that private companies make.

All of us have a part to play in ensuring Australian children and young people are as safe as possible from online risks. The Government has a range of measures in place to help protect children online and to support parents and teachers in managing the online activities of children.

Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner (Commissioner) helps to protect Australian children from cyberbullying harm and takes a national leadership role in online safety for children in particular. One of the key functions of the Commissioner is to administer a complaints system, backed by legislation that will quickly remove material that is harmful to a child from social media sites. The Commissioner also accredits and evaluates online safety educational programs and administers the Online Content Scheme.

The Commissioner's complaints system is for Australian children who experience serious cyberbullying online. In order to lodge a complaint with the Commissioner, a complaint must first be made to the relevant social media service under its complaints scheme. If the service does not remove the material within 48 hours a complaint can then be made to the Commissioner.

Each complaint received by the Commissioner is assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Commissioner aims to remove serious cyberbullying material as quickly as possible, so once a complaint has been assessed, the Commissioner can request that a social media service remove the material within 48 hours.

Complaints about cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child may be lodged by completing the online form at www.esafety.gov.aukomplaints-and-reporting/cyberbullying-complaints.Additionally, there are a number of online safety initiatives currently available to Australian children to help them deal with matters such as harmful content and cyberbullying.

The Commissioner's website www.esafety.gov.au is a useful resource providing online safety advice on minimising risk, including a link to an online helpline and general tips to keep children safe using social media, search engines and online games. The Commissioner also provides classroom resources and funds certified online safety programs in schools.

The ThinkUKnow website (www.thinkUknow.org.au),sponsored in part by the Australian Federal Police, offers help and advice, including information relating to the posting of offensive and explicit material online.

The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) is a national policing initiative of the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. ACORN allows the public to securely report instances of cybercrime. The ACORN provides information on how to recognise and avoid common forms of cybercrime, as well as offering advice to those who have fallen victim. The ACORN site is at www.acorn.gov.au.

The Online Content Scheme regulates prohibited and potentially prohibited online content in Australia based on the National Classification Scheme. Information about what constitutes prohibited content and potentially prohibited content, and how to lodge a complaint is available at www.esafety.gov.aukomplaints-and-reporting/offensive-and-illegal-content-complaints.

Minimum age requirements for social media registration

In regards to the petitioners' suggestion of minimum age requirements to use social media sites, most major social media services and apps require users to be 13 years old to join. This is generally to comply with international privacy laws which prohibit organisations from collecting private data from children below a specific age. For example, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act 1998 is a United States law which imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age.

In Australia, the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) is the responsibility of the Attorney-General. While the Privacy Act does not include separate provisions for the handling of a child's information, it might be the case that an individual's age may be relevant to whether or not they have consented to the collection, use or disclosure of their personal information. The Privacy Act does not specify an age after which individuals can make their own privacy decisions. Constituents can also contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for more information on Australian privacy laws.

Thank you for bringing this petition to my attention.

Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield