The Australian Parliament will put big tech under the microscope as it examines toxic material on social media platforms and the dangers this poses to the well-being of Australians.
The inquiry, which will be chaired by Robertson MP Lucy Wicks, was announced today by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP.
Prime Minister Morrison said the inquiry builds on the world-leading legislation the Government announced earlier this week to unmask anonymous online trolls.
“Mums and dads are rightly concerned about whether big tech is doing enough to keep their kids safe online,” The Prime Minister said. “Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure their users are safe.
“Big tech has big questions to answer. But we also want to hear from Australians; parents, teachers, athletes, small businesses and more, about their experience, and what needs to change.”
Minister Fletcher said the troubling revelations from a Facebook whistleblower have amplified existing concerns in the community.
“This inquiry will give organisations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct,” Minister Fletcher said.
“Australia has led the world in regulating social media, establishing the world’s first dedicated online safety watchdog in 2015. In June this year we passed the tough new Online Safety Act which will give our eSafety Commissioner even stronger powers to direct the removal of online abuse.
“So this inquiry will be a very important opportunity to examine the practices of these companies—and whether more needs to be done.”
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman, said for too long social media platforms had been putting company profits ahead of the wellbeing and safety of children.
“In Australia, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a consistent increase in signs of distress and mental ill-health among young people. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, we know that social media is part of the problem,” Assistant Minister Coleman said.
“Young people have told us this themselves. In a 2018 headspace survey of over 4000 young people aged 12 to 25, social media was nominated as the main reason youth mental health is getting worse. And the recent leak of Facebook’s own internal research demonstrates the impact social media platforms can have on body image and the mental health of young people.
“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."