Social media platforms must be held to account for harm caused by cyber bullying and violence

6 March 2018
New laws that would see big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter liable for harm caused by cyber bullying and violence are urgently needed to ensure social media platforms have a strong financial incentive to stamp out harmful behaviour online; Maurice Blackburn Lawyers will tell a Senate inquiry on cyber bullying.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Josh Bornstein, who will tomorrow appear at the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into cyber bullying, said that for too long social media platforms have helped to enable cyberbullying, without ever being held to account for the harm caused, including injury and death.

“Politicians should approach the need to make cyberspace safe much in the same way that our current laws require workplaces to be safe - by imposing a duty of care on the big tech companies and by allowing individuals to sue when that duty is breached,” Mr Bornstein said.

“Groups like Facebook and Twitter are often quick to distance themselves from instances of cyber bullying, when what they should be doing is taking decisive action to minimise such behaviour on their platforms and in making sure people are protected.

“While we welcome comments today from Minister Kelly O’Dwyer warning Facebook and Twitter to lift their standards, governments have typically taken a timid approach to regulation in this area – even criminal acts in cyber space are rarely prosecuted.

“Europe is leading the charge on regulating the internet but Australian legislators are lagging behind. New Zealand introduced its own anti cyber-bullying legislation in 2015.

“That’s why we believe regulatory responsibility is urgently needed to prompt greater action from social media platforms to act on cyber bullying and violence - if victims had the tools to take on groups like Facebook and Twitter then those companies would be compelled to commit serious resources to clean up their platforms.

“We also want to see enforceable sanctions against employers who fail to protect against cyber bullying in workplaces.

“In today’s world there is an increasing expectation for staff to be actively engaged with social media for their work, in industries such as the media in particular, yet many employers are not taking steps to protect their staff from the obvious risks that can come with this,” he said.

A copy of Maurice Blackburn’s submission to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into cyber bullying is available.