Digital giants Facebook, Twitter and Google have united to reject an Abbott government proposal that would force social media companies to remove content deemed harmful to young people.
The government has proposed appointing a children’s e-safety commissioner with the power to force sites to take down posts containing bullying or harassment -an idea backed by child psychologists and family groups. The government is also considering creating a new Commonwealth cyber-bullying offence.
The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association – representing the major social media companies – says the proposal is too cumbersome and would not cover popular messaging services such as Snapchat and Kik.
NSW Police recently described Kik, a texting app that allows people to connect with strangers, as “the number one social media problem involving teenagers”.
”A policy that clamps down heavily on the things that young people can say to each other on larger responsible sites has potential to drive young people to engage in risk-taking behaviour on services that have less well-developed protections in place and are not covered by the legislated scheme,” the association said in its submission to the government.
“Given the government’s commitment to de-regulation and reduction in red tape and lack of evidence that existing mechanisms are not operating as intended, we respectfully submit that the government should reconsider the proposal to introduce legislation to take down content and rather work to extend [existing protocols] to apply to more services.”
Facebook argues the definition of harmful content is too broad and could be used to target, for example, photos of children ”planking” with their friends.
“Rather than enhance the online safety of young people, the scheme has potential to legislate intergenerational conflict rather than encouraging conversations between parents and young people,” Facebook said in a seperate submission.
The free market Institute of Public Affairs think tank opposed the proposal on free speech grounds.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, Paul Fletcher, has repeatedly said the current system of self-regulation was not sufficient to protect children against online bullying.
”[If] you’re a child who is a victim of cyber-bullying, or a parent or a teacher wanting to assist that child, if the site doesn’t respond when you notify a concern, you really have no redress at all,” he said last month.