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.