Australia to launch federal probe into big tech and the 'toxic material' on their platforms

The federal government's latest crackdown on big tech will see an inquiry be established looking into their impact on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians.

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The federal government will commence a parliamentary inquiry to scrutinise major technology companies and the "toxic material" that resides on their online platforms.

In the government's latest crackdown on big tech, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new inquiry would build on the proposed social media legislation to "unmask trolls" that was announced over the weekend, with an exposure draft of that legislation expected to be released sometime this week.

"Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure their users are safe," Morrison said. "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."

The inquiry will examine the practices of major technology companies and consider evidence relating to the impact social media platforms have on the mental health of Australians.  

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who announced the inquiry alongside Morrison, said the inquiry was also stoked by revelations arising from a Facebook whistleblower in a similar inquiry currently being undertaken in the US.

"This inquiry will give organisations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct," Fletcher also said.

Cracking down against big tech has been big on Morrison's agenda as late, with the Prime Minister two months ago saying social media platforms are a "coward's palace" and that they would be viewed as publishers if they are unwilling to identify users that post foul and offensive content.

"Social media has become a coward's palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people's lives, and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity," Morrison said at the time.

The federal government in March also passed the Online Safety Act that gave Australia's eSafety Commissioner expanded powers to order the removal of abhorrent violent material from online platforms.

The decision to commence the inquiry is a shift from the Parliamentary movements made at the start of this year, with the Senate at the time opposing a motion to stand up an inquiry into big tech influence in Australia.

The inquiry, to be chaired by Liberal backbencher Lucy Wicks, will provide a report of its findings in February next year. 

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