The inquiry expressed concern about evidence implying that some cases of serious and possibly criminal cyber-bullying had not been pursued in the courts.
“This may be due to a lack of understanding of, or willingness to, apply these provisions,” the report said.
“The committee recommends that law enforcement agencies appropriately investigate and prosecute serious cyber-bullying complaints.”
While the inquiry noted penalties for offences committed by minors should not be increased, the report recommended increasing the maximum penalty for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence from three years’ to five years’ imprisonment.
“The maximum penalties for cyber-bullying should recognise the serious harm that cyber-bullying can cause. This includes high levels of distress and mental health problems, and there may also be some degree of link between cyber-bullying and suicide,” the report found.
The committee also urged the Australian government to develop and publicise a clear definition of cyber-bullying to acknowledge the complexity and scope of the issue.
The inquiry asked the government to approach cyber-bullying as a social and public health issue, and highlighted the importance of improving prevention, early intervention and education initiatives.
Praising the role of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the inquiry recommended public promotion of the office, and the possible expansion of the cyber-bullying complaints scheme to include complaints made by adults.
The committee acknowledged the benefits of social media platforms, but stressed that social networking sites are primary vehicles for serious cyber-bullying.
Combating the issue, the inquiry found, requires the government placing and maintaining regular pressure on social media platforms to prevent and quickly respond to cyber-bullying cases on their sites.
“[The Committee] wishes to make it clear that it is up to social media platforms to make their platforms safe environments, reduce the incidences of cyber-bullying and promptly take down all offending material,” the report said.
The final recommendation urged the Australian Government to require social media platforms to publish data on user complaints and the platforms’ responses, to motivate social networking sites to address cyber-bullying.
The committee’s report is based on 34 submissions received from organisations including the Attorney-General’s Department, the Law Council of Australia and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.
Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
This piece by Julia Arena was first seen on ‘News.com.au’, 29 March 2018.