I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue and support the comments made by my colleagues the member for Chifley and the member for Newcastle. I really want to speak about the challenges faced by small-business women as they conduct their business online, especially on social media. Prior to COVID, many actively avoided social media for business purposes, but no-one could help but get online during COVID. What this has led to is a rise in anxiety about what comments will be made about them or their business or their competitors or their customers as the social media tragics target them. All of us as MPs would be well aware of the tactics—people hiding behind sometimes numerous fake Facebook profiles, sometimes using their own name but not often; comments appearing in the late hours of the night or the early hours of the morning, never alone but always with a couple of others happy to pile in, at a time when they know neither we nor our staff can monitor. Their skill is in inciting others to engage and respond to their nonsense. Some people just can't help themselves. As MPs, we recognise we'll be targets, and I know we do our best to deal with those comments, many of which I now take a hard line on and choose to delete or hide because I want people to feel they can have a rigorous but respectful discussion around policy on my page. But it is hard to get to them all. That's us with our resources. What worries me is that small and micro businesses are really feeling the pain.
I've discussed this with members of women's business groups, and the level of anxiety about how to deal with it is through the roof. Some have reported being afraid to post in groups for fear of the response it will trigger. Others are concerned that conversations on their page can quickly escalate way beyond the original topic and they're just not sure how to manage it. The eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, released a report nearly a year ago showing a 40 per cent increase in reports of online abuse and cyberbullying in just the first few weeks of COVID compared with the previous 12-month weekly average. The commissioner has said she believes the increase in online harm is unlikely to go away.
For me it feels like a full-time job keeping on top of it, but for small business this is not something they should have to put up with. I'm not waiting for legislation to support these women in business in coping with the onslaught. It is a wait, by the way. The government promised to bring in legislation last year, but instead, two days before Christmas, they released a draft—two days before Christmas. It was almost as if they didn't really want feedback on it. The submissions closed on Valentine's Day. If anyone in my electorate missed out on putting in a submission, please send it to me, and I will make sure it gets to the minister.
The draft legislation provides the eSafety Commissioner with some additional powers to unmask internet trolls, but, as I said, I am not waiting for this government to legislate, because we've waited far too long. Working with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, I'm running a workshop next month to empower women in business in my electorate to deal with cyberabuse and cyberanxiety. As Ms Inman Grant has said to me, 'The gendered nature of online abuse is an issue we've been grappling with for some time.' She's expanded the Women Influencing Tech Spaces program to offer in-depth social media self-defence as a way of tackling this issue head-on.
I'm very pleased to be joining with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to provide advice and practical support for women in business in my electorate, for whom social media is a vital professional tool. I'm partnering with Women with Altitude and the Hawkesbury Women in Business group, with invitations to go out through the chambers of commerce. It's open to all women in business across the electorate of Macquarie through the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. This is something I hope will help women be better prepared to recognise online harassment and cyberabuse; to know where and to whom and when to report it; to help them make decisions about whether to respond and the best ways to do that; and to be aware about how online harassment can affect wellbeing. This will be a really practical forum with practical advice and an opportunity to discuss the things that I know women in micro and small business are dealing with every single day. The online workshop will be from 6 pm on Tuesday 9 March, and all of the details and RSVP links will, appropriately, be on Facebook. So look out for it. I urge women to join us. We should be using social media as a tool that lifts up the businesses that we work in and get one step in front of the people who are trying to pull us down, and that's what this workshop is aimed at.