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'Seibold laws' on the way as Broncos ex-coach hands over dossier of online abuse

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Former Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Seibold  has passed a dossier of the online abuse he received to the NRL Integrity Unit, as the Federal Government plans stronger laws against cyberbullying.

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Cyberbullying legislation establishing an adult cyber abuse scheme is expected to be introduced into the Parliament in the coming months with expanded powers for the eSafety Commissioner.

Federal Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, has told the ABC “a pattern” of high-profile cases of online abuse, such as that directed at former Brisbane Broncos coach  Seibold, “add weight to the fact that we need to make the internet a safer place”.

“I expect to be able to introduce legislation into the parliament within months,” Fletcher said.

“Amongst other things this will establish an adult cyber abuse scheme.

“We already have laws to deal with cyberbullying of children and indeed Australia was a world leader in introducing such laws and also establishing what’s now called the eSafety Commissioner — our Commonwealth Government regulator of online safety.”

Under the draft legislation, the eSafety Commissioner will have the power to direct social media platforms to take down content deemed to be abusive, existing criminal penalties for using a carriage service to “menace, harass or offend” will see jail terms increased from three to five years, and new civil penalties will include fines “in the order of $100,000”.

Seibold resigned from his position as coach of the Brisbane Broncos NRL club last week and has handed a dossier of online abuse compiled by his lawyer and international cybersecurity experts to the NRL’s integrity unit.

The ABC understands if the NRL does not act in the next 14 days, the evidence will be handed to Queensland Police.

“The social media stuff was just disgusting in any way, shape or form,” Seibold said in a revealing half-hour interview.

When asked whether he could “tune out” from the relentless social media attacks, Seibold said it was “impossible and I’m not even on social media”.

“Think about how widespread social media is in our society — my daughters have got it, my wife’s got it, my mum’s got it, all my friends have got it — it’s in some ways how we connect with others,” he said.

“So, when something goes viral like it did in my situation, of course it has a significant impact… it’s cruel, it’s unfair.

“As a coach my philosophy is you can criticise performance but you don’t criticise the person.”

In the weeks leading up to Seibold’s decision to resign, he was contacted by Channel 9 sports presenter Erin Molan who has also been the target of online abuse.

“We both feel the legislation in and around social media and cyberbullying and the commentary around that is archaic,” Seibold said.

“If there’s one good thing that potentially can come out of a really ugly and defamatory situation is that maybe through my profile as an NRL head coach, or former NRL head coach, I can start that conversation because I think it needs to change.

“If someone yelled out — the things that were said about me — in public, I could get them charged but it’s hard to from social media from what I understand.

“If someone wasn’t as strong-willed and could endure and persevere as much as myself then I would think that they could potentially harm themselves.

“I would just hate for anyone to feel like that.”

Despite being targeted, Seibold said he “never felt personally threatened”.

“But I felt my reputation threatened and tarnished and defamed.

“There were players’ partners named in certain posts that were put up and spread around and I think about the impact on them and their families and their mums and dads.

“It hurts the people closest to you and I don’t know if someone started it as a joke, or someone started it because we weren’t winning games, I don’t know what the reason was behind it… but the way it was spread and how comfortable people were to forward it on is just bemusing.

“That’s not acceptable behaviour.”

The Federal Communications Minister agrees.

“I think the case of Anthony Seibold and the kind of abuse that he’s been facing online, the experiences that Erin Molan the prominent sports journalist has had, which she’s talked about, Taylor Harris the AFLW player, and sadly there are many others,” Fletcher said.

“I also hear from many ordinary Australians who have been the subject of very unpleasant abuse online… these all add weight to the fact that we need to make the internet a safer place.”

Fletcher said it was an election promise to strengthen the Online Safety Act.

“There is more to do to keep Australians safe online,” he said.

“We’re looking to get the legislation introduced, certainly well before the end of the year and then be in a position to take the legislation through and have it passed in parliament.

“The quicker we can get it introduced, the quicker we can get it passed, then the quicker the eSafety Commissioner will have these new powers and there will be these additional protections for Australians online.”

The full interview with Anthony Seibold and the Federal Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, on The Ticket can be heard here.

– ABC / Tracey Holmes for The Ticket

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