‘Use every lever’ to limit social media damage on youth

Social media companies fail in their responsibility to protect children from online harm, says a safety advocate renewing calls for age verification.

Mandatory and enforced measures such as age verification are a way to crack down on platforms over online safety, a parliamentary inquiry into social media’s impact has been told.

“This is one lever we need to use every lever at our disposal … let’s try everything, throw everything we can at this to limit the damage that is being done, especially to vulnerable children and young people,” Collective Shout director Melinda Tankard Reist told the inquiry on Wednesday.

Young people’s wellbeing needs to be put before big tech profits, said Ms Tankard Reist, whose group campaigns against the sexualisation of girls.

The industry has shown itself not to be a responsible corporate citizen, she told the inquiry.

“If these were standard brick and mortar buildings, they’d be shut down by now, it seems that they have been able to do anything they want.”

Ms Tankard Reist took aim at social media platforms enabling adult and sexualised content being offered to young people online.

“Too much responsibility is placed on young people to monitor their own safety online, and that the onus should be on big tech and social media companies,” she said.

But age-assurance technology would not make the sites any safer and plays into the hands of the tech companies, Reset Tech Australia’s Rys Farthing told the inquiry.

“It’s (the platforms’) playbook to start talking about age verification the moment we talk about any particular safety enhancements or safety standards that could be implemented for kids and I think it’s a bit of a trap,” Dr Farthing said.

“There are multiple regulatory reforms that we could put in place that would fundamentally transform the digital architecture for young people without requiring age assurance, but it’s the only thing that tech wants us to talk about.”

The federal government provided $6.5 million in May’s budget for a pilot program for age-assurance technology, amid calls by some including the opposition to introduce such protections.

The technology would be developed to stop children from accessing online content such as pornography.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has vowed to ban children under 16 from accessing social media should the coalition win the next election, by putting in age-verification measures.

But dangerous content would remain on the platforms regardless of age restrictions, Dr Farthing told the inquiry.

The inquiry also heard online privacy laws in Australia had failed to address social media dangers.

Digital Rights Watch chair Lizzie O’Shea said additional measures were needed to properly protect users.

“It is quite clear now that our laws are four decades out of date,” she said.

“The result is that the data-extract business models that have been allowed to proliferate online have come at significant expense to Australian society … micro-targeting makes online life dangerous for many Australians.”


Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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