The Federal Government is establishing a parliamentary inquiry to put big tech companies “under the microscope.
In the latest hammering against big tech, social media giants will be made to detail how they keep their users safe from harm online.
This move comes as The Morrison Government has taken increasing exception to the dangers posed to people’s wellbeing from toxic social media content and activity.
Morrison’s latest strike is a continuation from his weekend announcement where he said that the Government would legislate “to unmask anonymous online trolls.”
According to Morrison, big tech, “has big questions to answer,” which this forthcoming inquiry will seek to address.
It will not only examine the online harms that are prevalent on social media but investigate the impact on mental health as well as the effectiveness of existing safety measures.
Unlike with earlier proposed anti-troll legislation, this latest effort to hold social media companies to account has been praised by advocacy group Reset Australia.
As written in a MediaNet release, “Reset Australia welcomes all efforts to tackle the problem of Big Tech systematically,” said Reset Australia’s tech policy director Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran.
“The recent government plans for anti-troll social media legislation don’t tackle the real, much more significant problem: the business model of Big Tech. Hopefully, this inquiry will begin to address that problem.”
“The era of self-regulation for social media companies is over. If we are serious about protecting our democracy from misinformation, disinformation, extremism and polarisation we can’t let Big Tech write their own rules,” he continued.
The Conversation reports that the House of Representatives select committee on social media and online safety will be chaired by Lucy Wicks, MP for the NSW seat of Robertson. It will begin hearings in December and report in mid-February.
It’s believed that the inquiry will invite evidence from public figures Taylah Harris, Adam Goodes and Erin Molan, who have all been targets of ruthless, cowardly trolling attacks.
It’s likely these invitations are part of Morrison’s want to hear from Australian’s that come from all walks of life to divulge their individual experiences and offer some recommendations as to what needs to change.
Also invited, Meta (formerly Facebook) whistle-blower and ex-employee Frances Haugen. She has been very open about her perception of a conflict of interest between what was good for the public and good for Facebook.
She’s also said, that “Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has added, “The troubling revelations from a Facebook whistle-blower have amplified existing concerns in the community.”
Acting responsively to this apparent concern, Australia has led the world in its regulatory policy for social media.
In 2015, it had established the world’s first dedicated online safety watchdog and this year has given the eSafety Commissioner stronger powers to direct the removal of online abuse.
However, the Australian Government is far from finished in its quest to tame an industry which the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for mental health and suicide prevention, David Coleman accused of putting profits ahead of safety.
Scathingly he added, “We know that we can’t trust social media companies to act in the best interests of children, so we’re going to force them to.”
Under the new proposal, a complaints mechanism would allow anyone who believes they’ve been bullied or defamed online can force social media platforms into taking down the offending posts.
Should the platform disobey the directive, a court process would allow the alleged victim to require social media companies to provide the identity of anonymous posters.
Other items under examination include, identity verification and age assurance policies and the effectiveness of industry measures to keep people, especially children, safe online.
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