Education is critical in the fight to reduce cyberbullying and harassment of children, and improve online safety, Australia’s cyberbullying and children’s safety watchdog has said.

The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner in Australia, led by commissioner Alastair MacGibbon, is one of the world’s first bodies set up expressly to combat cyberbullying for children.
In a report detailing its first nine months of operations released on Saturday, MacGibbon outlined that the office has resolved 124 cyberbulling complaints since it was launched, working with social media providers to have offensive content removed.

It also has a role in investigative child sex abuse material, and has worked with overseas partner agencies to remove more than 5,400 URLs of child sex abuse material.

MacGibbon told Guardian Australia the office had focused heavily on educating young people about cyberbulling, and had reached over 47,000 students through virtual classrooms it has set up.

“Unless we get the education bit right, and we change the culture, we’ll be playing the whack a mole game forever of taking cyberbullying material down.”

MacGibbon also praised the Guardian’s the Web We Want series, and said that it showed the reflection that was needed to help virtual providers improve their cultures.

“I like the initiative such as what the Guardian is doing, because we can only do this if everyone who has internet real estate can think about how they can work to stop this,” he said.
I’m really pleased to see the Guardian having this discussion with itself and its audience to see what the standard should be and how we should set it.”

He said the office’s work to date with social media services had been largely collaborative, with organisations being responsive when his office had raised concerns.

“We are indeed a regulator of social media services, but we are a light touch regulator. So far our interventions have been very cooperative,” MacGibbon said.

“A lot of what we’ve been trying to do is explain to the Australian public that there is a service that they can use, and we will take action if we need to.”

A challenge for the office has been the difficulty in physically reaching students and teachers. It has instead been encouraging the use of its virtual classrooms, which have now reached thousands of students.

“It’s been a fantastic 9 months, and we’re just increasingly trying to work out how to scale,” he said.

“In our increasingly networked society, we need to guide our children toward safe online experiences, and to be there for them as a safety net.”