Commentary

Australia Weighs Regulations For Social Media

Amid growing concern about the negative effects of cyber-bullying, including suicides attributed to online harassment, Australia’s government is considering introducing new regulations for social media sites. The could significantly impact the business of companies like Facebook and Twitter Down Under.
 
Australia’s Liberal Party, which unseated the Labor Party in coalition with several other center-right parties in September 2013, recently released a “discussion paper” titled “Enhancing Online Safety for Children.” It lays the groundwork for legislation to bring social networks under closer government supervision and control.

The "Online Safety" paper proposes the appointment of a “Children’s e-Safety Commissioner” with authority over social networks and social network users, extending to civil penalties and fines.
 
The process might work in the following way. Individuals would first register complaints about “harmful material that is directed at a specific child” on their own or on others’ behalf, with the social network itself. The social network would then be given a reasonable amount of time (in the vicinity of 48 hours) to address the complaints. If no action is taken, the individual concerned could then petition the office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner, who would contact the social network about the complaint.
 
At this point, failure to respond to the Commissioner’s inquiries or demands could result in penalties ranging from a public statement detailing complaints about the social media site, to a formal warning to individual users as well as the social media site, to fines (for offending individuals) and civil penalties (for the sites). The Commissioner might also advise the public that certain sites are not safe for children.
 
Of course, handling these types of complaints would require a significant presence “on the ground” in Australia, which companies like Facebook and Twitter don’t necessarily have, beyond advertising sales and technical staff. (The paper also contemplates fines for companies that don’t have the staff to respond to complaints.)

Thus the new rules, if implemented, could result in a big increase in costs for social-media companies that want to remain in the Australian market.

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1 comment about "Australia Weighs Regulations For Social Media".
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  1. Paul Scivetti from Synergen, Inc, January 23, 2014 at 2:56 p.m.

    Staff on the ground in Australia (and every place else? Really? Talk about a 19th century solution for a 21st century issue.

    Governments, legislatures and courts can't even move at the speed of (brick & mortar) businesses...let alone at 'Internet speed'. The goal of wanted to increase safety for our children is laudable, the execution is going to be heavy-handed at best...if it is workable at all.

    Keep in mind many of the folks wanting to 'control the Internet' only recently learned how to read and send their own email.

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