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Aust opposition considers social-media takedowns, child-friendly smartphones

The federal Coalition is considering policy on the best way to remove harmful content from social media and how to protect children online.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A children's e-safety commissioner, the ability to pull down offending content more quickly, and child-friendly smartphones are just some of the things that we can potentially look forward to under a future Tony Abbott Coalition government.

The proposals came in a discussion paper released by Coalition MP Paul Fletcher today, which looks at better methods of protecting children online.

The so-called children's e-safety commissioner would be in charge of "education campaigns," and would give guidelines on how to deal with online content and behaviour that is directed at children but "fails to meet the criminal threshold."

The Coalition has recognised, in the discussion paper, that comments on Facebook or social media that may not be illegal could nevertheless be a form of bullying for children, and could lead to psychological harm. And while within Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the power to issue take-down notices for content that is refused classification (RC) or above R18+, content on international sites, such as the major social-media companies, is not in the ACMA's remit.

The Coalition suggests that to get around this, there should be a "co-operative regulatory scheme" for social-media companies that operate in Australia. In cases where people are being bullied on Facebook, those who are being bullied have a method to request that the content be removed.

With some degree of foresight, the Coalition has pointed out that this would be a voluntary, industry-funded scheme, and would not be implemented without consulting the industry first.

This is where it all seems to unravel. If the Daily Telegraph's recent "stop the trolls" campaign, which the federal government jumped onboard with, taught us anything, it is that a lot of the social-media providers already have policies in place to deal with these sorts of things.

In fact, although the Telegraph was calling a victory by saying that Twitter would be working with Australian law-enforcement agencies, Twitter in fact said that it wouldn't be doing anything much different to what it already was.

I can't see a future Coalition government getting any more out of these big US-based social-media companies than what the current government already has.

According to the discussion paper, the Coalition would also like to see "branding or symbols" placed on smartphones that have parental control tools, so that parents know which ones to buy. It's a nice idea, and I know that Telstra is working to bring in parental control tools with Smart Controls. A lot of smartphones out in the market already come with parental controls as it is. The problem is that parents will buy this device and think all of their problems are solved. The same argument as the recently dumped filter applies here; no matter what controls you put in place to stop people from doing something, they are going to find a way around it.

The decent part of the policy is about education. More education for both parents and kids around how to effectively deal with online bullying, dangers, or trolls and appropriate use of smartphones is likely to be much more effective than trying to force the social networks to play nice.

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