Last week the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety released its report on its inquiry into social media and online safety.
We were pleased to see a number of the Committee’s recommendations which echoed our own and which – if implemented - will serve to rein in online service providers. We hope that the days of self-regulation which have allowed tech corporates to prioritise profit over safety and leave vulnerable Australians - women and children particularly - at risk of the worst kinds of online abuse and exploitation will eventually be behind us.
Unfortunately, the road to regulation won't be a short one.
The Committee recommended a Digital Safety Review on the legislative framework and regulation in relation to the digital industry, and associated terms of reference including:
- the need to strengthen the Basic Online Safety Expectations to incorporate and formalise a statutory duty of care towards users;
- the best interests of the child principle as an enforceable obligation for online service providers.
We welcomed the recommendation, noting that regulation aimed at holding online service providers responsible for harms they facilitate, and which require them to prioritise children's well-being, may serve to redress the rampant sexualisation, harassment and exploitation of children facilitated by social media corporates. But we further noted that the Review may take until July 2024 to complete.
We also welcomed the recommendation that tech platforms implement ‘default privacy and safety settings at their highest form’ for all under-18 users. We remain cautious however, noting that the latter hinges on robust measures to verify user age.
We further welcomed the recommendation of a ‘mandatory requirement for all technology manufacturers and providers to ensure all digital devices sold contain optional parental control functionalities’. Due to reliance on activation of the settings by parents and carers, we are concerned that this measure will have limited impact in keeping vulnerable children safe. We hope the final legislation will require digital devices to be sold with maximum privacy and safety settings set to default.
Other recommendations included examining the use of algorithms and associated harms; examining the potential for requiring platform transparency, and for building into legislation a requirement for platforms to enforce their community standards policies.
The Committee acknowledged the need for more and better education and recommended a national strategy on online safety education as well as a national campaign aimed at all Australians with a focus on respectful online behaviour. It also recommended increased funding to support victims of technology-based abuse. We welcomed each of these.
Read the full report here.
Read our submission to the inquiry here.