We need to be able to act when online alarm bells ring
The internet offers a world of opportunities. But it also brings some new threats a lot of parents and young people don’t adequately understand.
The tragic murder or 15 year old South Australian girl Carly Ryan by a 50 year old Victorian man who travelled to Adelaide after grooming her on a social networking site brought home to many of us how badly our outdated laws deal with the new threats posed by the internet.
The fifty year old killer had pretended to be a 20 year old youth online in order to win over Carly’s confidence. With the support of Carly’s mother Sonya I introduced into the Senate a Private Senator’s Bill which would make it illegal for an adult to misrepresent their age while communicating with a minor online.
As I see it, the logic of the Bill is simple. Right now police can only act if an adult makes an explicit threat, or physically assaults a victim.
Why wait until the perpetrator is physically close enough to kill their victim?
The Bill is designed to give police the power to act decisively and more importantly to act early.
The Bill has not received the support of the Government or the Opposition and civil liberties groups have labeled it an attack on personal liberties.
This line of argument seems ridiculous to me. What about Carly’s right to be free from being murdered?
This Bill would make lying to a minor the offence. Police could act before the attacker could get to the child.
The recent murder of Sydney teenager Nona Belemosoff by a man she also met through Facebook tragically showed that the sickening crime against Carly was not a one off.
The other troubling trend emerging from social networking sites like Facebook seems to be the tasteless and hurtful posts that pop up after tragedies like the recent murder of Queenslander Trinity Bates.
Don’t basic rules of decency dictate that if you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, don’t say it on Facebook.
Adding to the problem is the fact that social networking sites can be very slow to take offensive postings down even after intense online lobbying.
That is why I proposed the creation of an Online Ombudsman who could lobby on behalf of the Australian people to have offensive material taken down more quickly.
The Ombudsman would only be able to make a request on behalf of the Australian government, but hopefully this would carry more weight with the social networking sites than emails from concerned readers have in the past.
Just today I readily agreed to support Carly Ryan’s mother Sonya with the expansion of the Carly Ryan Foundation which she has set up to encourage the safer use of social networking sites.
I admire Sonya, and her desire to protect children from the kind of unthinkable tragedy that befell her daughter.
If she is given the opportunity speak out, I am sure young people and parents alike will listen.
We need a 21st century approach to this 21st century phenomenon. That approach needs to be part education and part legislation.
I am not about censoring the internet, and don’t support the Federal Government’s proposed internet filter because it will not work, and may lull parents into a false sense of security.
But I do support trying to make the internet safer with tougher laws and by creating a greater awareness that the internet brings risks as well as opportunities.
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