Aussies call for tech giants to take action on abuse

 

EXCLUSIVE: Three out of four Australians think tech giants including Facebook, Instagram and Google should be doing more to remove deeply harmful material from their platforms, including child abuse, revenge porn, fake news, cyber-bullying, and trolling.

The findings, released today in an eSafety Commission study of 3700 people, also showed Australians were still concerned about their privacy on social networks, and demanded action on age restrictions, fraud, and misleading information spread on digital platforms.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the research proved tech giants needed to take urgent measures to reduce safety risks and protect users rather than relying on cyber safety experts to play "a virtual game of whack-a-mole" to mop up harm after it had occurred.

Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant addressing the National Press Club in Canberra.
Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant addressing the National Press Club in Canberra.

The warnings come just a week after a violent suicide video was allowed to go viral on digital platforms, and as experts questioned Google's newest argument against draft regulations in Australia.

The new eSafety Commission report - the fourth into Australian adults' experiences online - found 75 per cent of Australians thought tech giants should take responsibility for the online safety of their users, and fewer than one in four felt they were doing enough to address potential harms.

Most participants supported scanning digital platforms for child sexual abuse images, introducing age restrictions on content, and automatically flagging inappropriate language, and expressed concern about scams, cyber-bullying, and image-based abuse, as well as unreliable and misleading information spreading on social media.

Ms Inman Grant said the research clearly showed Australians had become frustrated and concerned by a lack of action from companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram to deal with known harms.

 

"I think we've seen a real shift in that Australians are now saying, 'we don't think technology companies are doing enough'," she said.

"We're much better preventing the harms from happening in the first place by detecting child sexual abuse, for example, or stopping bullying or online hate speech before it's posted.

"When you get in a car, you assume there will be seatbelts and airbags and they're covered by international standards but the technology companies are not required to put in virtual seatbelts."

Ms Inman Grant said social networks, in particular, needed to change their approach from "moving fast and breaking things to … creating less toxic platforms and environments".

And a lack of financial motivation for tech companies could mean national and international regulations were needed to force changes, she said.

"There may not be economic harms involved (for companies) but there are devastating personal harms that take a huge mental and emotional toll on people," she said.

Swinburne social media senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said harmful content on digital platforms had worsened during the pandemic, and was becoming more obvious to users.

 

"As people have been in lockdown, they've been spending more time on these social platforms and encountered ludicrous conspiracy theories that could stop people from getting vaccinated, for example," she said.

"It's also gotten worse over the last is months because some of the platforms have sent their human moderators home. As human moderation has gone down, we're seeing an uptick in dangerous content."

Despite the calls for greater regulation of tech giants' in Australia, Google issued another open letter against a proposal for it to pay for news in Australia this week, arguing it should not be forced to warn publishers when it changed how their content was shown and that it would not be treated fairly in 'final offer' negotiations.

But Dr Barnet said it was proof the trillion-dollar firm was "digging its heels in" against Australian attempts to reform the online space.

"It's a bit much for the world's fourth largest company to say this negotiation would be unfair," she said. "The whole reason this legislation was introduced was to level the playing field because these smaller publishers have not got the might to negotiate with Google."

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is expected to release a final proposal for the law within weeks.

Originally published as Aussies call for tech giants to take action on abuse



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