Today’s technology has made it easier for us to communicate, but it has also made cyberbullying easier, faster and more widespread. If you’ve ever been taunted or harassed online, then you may have been a victim of cyberbullying, which is a crime.
Cyberbullying is a criminal offence of the digital age where individuals are targeted through the use of technology. Cyberbullies can use the Internet, a mobile device or even a camera to harass, embarrass, threaten or hurt a person. The biggest concern here is that this type of bullying behaviour can easily be shared with a wide audience making it more widespread than traditional bullying.
Concerns about cyberbullying
One of the biggest problems with cyberbullying includes being unable to escape it. The messages, texts, photos or other material posted online that are intended to hurt or harass an individual becomes difficult to remove as they are shared online and can be accessed by many people.
The bully may be someone the individual knows or just as easily be someone they don’t know. Cyber bullies may also resort to spreading rumours, blocking communication, stealing passwords and identities, as well as setting up fake profiles and posting inappropriate content on an individual’s behalf.
How is cyberbullying dealt with in Australia?
There are a number of criminal laws that can apply to cyberbullies. However, since there are no specific cyberbullying offences in Australia, the offender must be deemed capable of being responsible for their own actions. This means that young offenders under 10 years of age will not be accountable for their bullying while others between 10 and 14 years of age will only be held answerable where it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they knew that they should not have done what they did.
Anyone above the age of 14 will be held criminally responsible.
The offence is considered cyberbullying when it involves:
- Using the Internet or a phone in a harassing, threatening, or offensive manner: If these devices are used to spread messages or posts which have the potential to be viewed as offensive and can cause anger, outrage, disgust or humiliation, the penalty can be up to 3 years in jail.
- Threats or intimidation: Trying to intentionally frighten someone by using any mobile devices, emails, or online posts is considered a criminal offence. The penalty for threatening to kill someone can be up to 10 years in jail. If the threat is based on an individual’s race, transgender identity or sexual orientation, the bully may be penalised for up to 6 months in jail.
- Stalking: Cyberbullying is considered stalking when the bully repeatedly contacts an individual with the intent to intimidate or frighten them. This may involve unwanted phone calls, sending frequent text messages or emails and causing the victim to fear for their safety. This offence holds a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail.
- Unauthorised access: Logging into another person’s online account without permission and viewing or altering their information is punishable by 2 years in jail.
- Defamation: Publishing false information via the Internet to cause them serious harm is an offence punishable by 3 years in jail.
- Encouraging suicide: Cyberbullying with an intent to instigate self-harm or suicide on the victim can send an offender to jail for 5 years.
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