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A lot of damage done by trolls has been on Twitter: Gillard

While the risks with the online world often centre around children, adults are just as vulnerable, according to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said that people sometimes say "the cruellest and harshest things to each other" on social media with the benefit of anonymity.

"Trolling and bullying happens to children as well as to adults," she said.

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Gillard admits it is likely part of human nature to say things that are "sharper and harder under the cover of anonymity" than they would normally say to someone's face.

"We see that in the online environment every day," she said.

"This has caused a lot of problems for people as they have felt the pressures of being bullied on Facebook, Twitter or other social media environments."

In response to this, the Government recently annouced new guidelines for social networking sites, and Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have already agreed to work in accordance with these protocols.

"These companies have agreed to make this commitment, which sets out clear protocols and guidelines about acceptable use of these environments," Gillard said.

The move is expected to educate and raise awareness about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour online.

It is also designed to provide a single point of contact for the Government and further information.

While Gillard sees this is a step forward by the "giants of social media," she would like to see a further step forward by Twitter.

"We need to see Twitter also agreeing to use these protocols and guidelines," she said.

Likely alluding to the public trolling of former model and TV host Charlotte Dawson on Twitter last year, where one follower controversially told her to "go hang" herself, Gillard said that "so much of the damage has been done by trolls" on Twitter.

"I do call upon Twitter to replicate what has been done by other social media companies and embrace these guidelines," she said.

Push the button

Gillard spoke about Twitter during the launch of McAfee's bCyberwise initative in Sydney, where she also mentioned the implementation of cyber safety help button by the Government.

"More than 660,000 people have downloaded it, so they can have an act that gets them help if they are feeling uncomfortable with what is happening online," she said.

This is an important development for the Government not just because it is designed to keep children safe while they are online.

"It will also make a difference in the way adults engage with social media, and some of the harm we have seen from social media," Gillard said.

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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