Proposed government reforms would see Facebook, TikTok, and more face $10m fines

The legislation aims to create a privacy code for social media sites in Australia.

 

Under the Australian's government's proposed reforms, Facebook and TikTok are amongst a number of social media giants that could face $10m in fines for serious privacy breaches – including penalties for repeated refusals to hand over data requested by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Part of the proposed reforms would require social media sites to verify the age of its users, stop sharing personal information upon request, and enforce parental consent for children.

Increased accountability

A separate private member's bill has also been introduced to parliament by Nationals MP, Anne Webster, which seeks to hold social media companies liable as publishers if they fail to remove defamatory material within 48 hours of receiving the eSafety commissioner's notice.

The proposed legislation would be instrumental in creating a social media privacy code – which would also apply to large online platforms and data brokers across Australia.

The code would require the platforms in question to take all reasonable steps to verify the age of its users, and those under the age of 16 would need to obtain parental consent. The best interests of any children would also need to be a primary consideration when handling children's personal information.

Members of the public would also be able to voice their concerns about defamatory material to the eSafety commissioner. As a result, a defamation notice can be sent to a service provider, to be held liable for the material if it is not removed within 48 hours.

We are ensuring their data and privacy will be protected and handled with care. Our draft legislations means that these companies will be punished heavily if they don't meet that standard.

Attorney General Cash

International consequences

Social media privacy reforms are an incredibly hot topic at the moment, and whistleblower Frances Haugen recently addressed the Online Safety Bill committee in London, citing that Facebook is actively and unquestionably "making hate worse".

Whilst the committee gathered to consider potential new rulings for social media titans, Haugen reiterated that Facebook has been resistant to meaningful change in order to preserve profit – at tremendous cost to its users. Haugen said:

Those people are also living in the UK, and being fed misinformation that is dangerous, that radicalizes people.

Frances Haugen

Currently, a new draft of the Online Safety Bill is being examined before its introduction to parliament, as it seeks to find a solution to the rising tide of online abuse received by MPs – following the recent murder of Sir David Amess.

The bill, however, will not only apply to MPs, but actively attempt to find a way to regulate all online content, from abusive messages and bullying to pornography. In addition, technology companies will be asked to prioritize their users' right to freedom of expression and privacy.

But some privacy advocates are concerned about the proposed bill, despite its apparent intentions to shield web users from a torrent of abusive content. Some detractors have even dubbed the bill as a "censor's charter", and fear that anonymous online accounts – and the freedoms they provide for marginalised users – could soon be a thing of the past.

It's likely that big social media platforms will err on the side of caution and take a proactive approach to removing content that the proposed bill deems as unacceptable. The government would effectively have the power to censor whatever, and whoever, they wish, wielding huge fines (of billions of pounds) for those platforms that do not comply.

This is not good news for our freedom of speech, and not an effective way to stem the tide of abuse – those responsible for the spread of hateful messages, misinformation, and extreme rhetoric often do so publicly with little fear of reprisal, which should be evidence enough that social media platforms themselves should do more to discourage this behavior, even if it means losing money.

After all, is there any price too steep to pay to retain our freedom of speech?

What's next?

The drafted bill is currently being scrutinized in parliament by a committee composed of members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. On December 10, the committee will make its report, which the government will then examine to determine whether changes are necessary.

Finally, the bill will take its first step to becoming a law by being formally introduced to parliament.

 

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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