23 April 2024

Government and Opposition demanding accountability from social media companies

| Chris Johnson
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teenagers holding mobile phones

Social media companies must step up, says both sides of politics. Photo: File.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says his government will “do what’s necessary” to take on “arrogant billionaire” Elon Musk over graphic images and commentary his social media platform X posted of the Wakeley church attacks.

Australia’s e-Safety Commissioner won a two-day injunction against X to take down the posts, but Musk immediately described it as censorship and is threatening further legal action.

Speaking on ABC radio, the Prime Minister said the government would not lie down over the issue.

“We’ll do what’s necessary to take on this arrogant billionaire who thinks he’s above the law, but also above common decency,” Mr Albanese said.

“What the e-Safety Commissioner is doing is doing her job to protect the interests of Australians. The idea that someone would go to court for the right to put up violent content on a platform shows how out-of-touch Mr Musk is.

“Social media needs to have social responsibility with it. Mr Musk is not showing any.”

Following a recent spate of violent actions that played out on social media – the Bondi stabbings and the Wakely church attack – Government Services Minister Bill Shorten and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton have also both called for greater accountability from social media platforms.

Lies about the events were easily spread through social media, people were wrongly identified, and graphic images played out on the sites with social media bosses refusing to take them down.

“It’s just unimaginable what’s happened,” Mr Shorten said.

“The social media companies need a big rinse out, frankly. Michelle Rowland is our Minister for Communications and I know that she was onto it straight away.

“[With] the e-Safety Commissioner… the government issued instructions to shut down various footage, which was just graphic and unnecessary.

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“But it’s a bit of a shame it takes the government to sort of play whack-a-mole here to shut down the horrible images…

“Social media companies take our money [and] they’ve got to just understand there’s a social licence, and it shouldn’t involve ministers and safety commissioners telling them what to do.

“They should just get on and do it straight away. And if it costs more money to catch the bad feed on their platforms, well, they just have to spend the money to catch it and stop it.”

Mr Dutton agreed, but went even further with his comments, linking the misuse of social media to a wider range of criminal acts, including child abuse.

Singling out Meta, he said social media companies were withholding information from police investigating child sexual abuse.

“I think it’s shameful,” the Opposition Leader said.

“There is technology available to them where they can screen through AI and through all the algorithms that they’ve got…

“When they have that red flag, they should take it down … if it’s an innocent graphic that they’ve caught, well, they can rectify that.

“But at the moment I think they’ve got complete contempt for families; for kids who spend a lot of time on social media.

“The influence that they exert needs to have that social licence.”

The discussion also turned to the need for tougher penalties for knife crimes, in light of the two incidents.

NSW Police are suggesting parents should be held accountable, and even jailed, for allowing their children to carry knives around.

Mr Shorten said the Federal Government would work with the states and support their decisions around knife crime penalties.

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“We need nationally consistent laws,” he said.

“When I say tougher penalties, it should be if you’re carrying a knife and use it, that’s aggravated.”

Mr Dutton added that more vigilance was needed at homes, workplaces and online.

“A lot of those kids are carrying knives because they can’t get access to guns, thank God,” he said.

“The thought that we can take every knife off the street is a nice one, but I think we’ve got to be realistic as well.”

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