The internet has become a daily, integrated part of life for many Australian families. It is an essential tool for all Australians, an integral part of our economic and social activities, and a vast resource of information, education and entertainment. The ability for young Australians to use online tools effectively provides both a skill for life and the means to acquire new skills. The internet provides children with a means through which they can exchange information, be entertained, socialise, do school work and conduct research.
Studies show that over 95 per cent of young Australians use the internet regularly. Almost daily internet use is common for children as young as eight or nine. This rapidly changes in the ‘tween’ years with many 10-12 year olds using the internet from 1-3 hours per day. By 13, social media use has become the norm; and by 15, the internet and its use has become an ‘organic integrated part’ of the everyday lives of Australian children. Whilst the popularity of various online activities – including email, games, chat, shopping, and passive consumption of music and videos – varies with different age groups, social media use has grown dramatically to overtake other forms of online entertainment and communications used by Australian children.
In 2011, the use of social media was identified as the primary form of digital communication between young people over 13, overtaking more traditional digital means such as text messages, phone calls and email. While around half of young Australians aged between 8 and 11 years use social media sites, this figure dramatically increases to around 90 per cent for 12 to 17 years olds. Research on the specific social media usage habits of children and young people indicates that the small minority of 12-17 year olds that do not have a Facebook account (usually due to parental control) felt that they suffer a degree of social isolation and exclusion.
This increased exposure to the internet and social media is also enhanced with the increase in ownership of internet-connected mobile devices, with research indicating that:
- 53 per cent of children own or access their first internet connected device before 10 years old; and
- around half of 14-17 year olds access the internet through mobile phones, with 43 per cent of them having their own smartphone.
Public Consultation Process
As set out in The Coalition’s Policy to Enhance Online Safety for Children, the Australian Government is committed to implementing a range of measures to improve the online safety of children in Australia, some of which include:
the establishment of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner;
developing an effective complaints system, backed by legislation, to get harmful material down
fast from large social media sites; and
examining existing Commonwealth legislation to determine whether to create a new, simplified cyber-bullying offence.
The Department of Communications (the Department) is seeking views on the issues raised in this discussion paper to assist in providing advice to the Government to enhance online safety for children. This paper is for consultation purposes only and does not necessarily represent current government policy.
Questions are included in boxes throughout the paper to guide discussion. Respondents are invited to provide written submissions or comments to address these questions, or provide a more general response if preferred.
Submissions must include the respondent’s name, organisation (if relevant) and contact details. Submissions with no verifiable contact details will not be considered.
Respondents should be aware that submissions will generally be made publicly available, including on the Department’s website (www.communications.gov.au). The Department reserves the right not to publish any submission, or part of a submission, which in the view of the Department contains potentially defamatory material, or where it considers it appropriate to do so for confidentiality or other reasons.
All submissions will be treated as non-confidential information unless the respondent specifically requests the submission, or a part of the submission, is kept confidential, and acceptable reasons accompany the request. Email disclaimers will not be considered sufficient confidentiality requests. Note that submissions will generally be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
The Privacy Act 1988 establishes certain principles with respect to the collection, use, and disclosure of information about individuals by the Department. Any personal information respondents provide to the Department through their submission is used only for the purposes of consideration of issues raised in this paper. Respondents should clearly indicate in their submission if they do not wish to have their name included in any summary of submissions that the Department may publish.
The closing date for submissions is 5.00 pm, 7 March 2014.