Social media watchdog has 'serious risks': Freedom commissioner

Australia's incoming Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has said there are 'serious risks' with the government's proposed children's eSafety commissioner having the power to remove content deemed to be 'harmful'.

The incoming human rights commissioner tasked with looking at issues of freedom, Tim Wilson, has said that there are "serious risks" with the government appointing a watchdog with the power to force social networking sites to remove content that is deemed to be "harmful" to children.

Yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher released a discussion paper outlining the government's proposal to bring in a Children's eSafety Commissioner with the power to compel large social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook to "rapidly" remove content that is said to be "targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child".

Wilson, who was appointed to the new role of freedom commissioner by Attorney-General George Brandis late last year and will take up his position on the Human Rights Commission next month, told ZDNet that while there are good intentions behind the government's proposal, it has serious risks associated with it.

"The government has every right to work with private social media sites to self-regulate content posted on social media sites, but it is concerning that the government would seek to have material removed," he said.

"Despite the obvious good intentions to ensure that harmful content is removed, the risk of government imposing restrictions on speech is in the power and discretion it gives to government employees to decide what is acceptable and what is not.

"There are very serious risks with this proposal, particularly when material deemed to be 'harmful' is largely up for interpretation."

Wilson said that the social media companies often already have codes that sufficiently self-regulate the removal of content that is harmful to children.

The social networks that would be affected by such a plan have said that it would be ineffective by not capturing all networks such as Snapchat, and would be counter-productive to the efforts already undertaken by the social networking sites to protect their customers.