Australia targets social media with parliamentary probe

By Reuters   May 9, 2024 | 08:10 pm PT
Australia announced on Friday that it would hold a parliamentary inquiry to look into the negative impacts of social media platforms, saying they have significant reach and control over what Australians see online, with almost no scrutiny.

The government has criticized social media platforms for not being quick enough to remove violent posts and seeks more oversight over content posted on Meta's Facebook, ByteDance's TikTok and Elon Musk-owned X.

"Across a range of issues, whether it be the issue of domestic violence, whether it be the radicalization of our young people, across a range of areas, something that keeps popping up over and over again is the role of social media," Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters.

"(They) can be very positive but also can have a negative influence which is there."

Albanese's Labor government is already in a legal fight with Musk's X over a regulatory order asking the platform to take down videos of the stabbing attack on an Assyrian church bishop in Sydney last month.

X said it has blocked the posts for Australian users, but Australia's e-Safety Commissioner says the content should be taken down for all users since it shows explicit violence. Musk has posted memes criticizing Albanese, describing the government's decision as censorship.

The joint parliamentary select committee will also check Meta's decision to withdraw from paying for news in Australia.

Meta declined to comment on the inquiry.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said Parliament needed to understand how social media companies "dial up and down the content that supports healthy democracies, as well as the anti-social content that undermines public safety."

"This inquiry will provide opportunity and resources for parliamentarians to closely scrutinize these companies and make recommendations on how we can make these platforms accountable for their decisions," Rowland said.

The government said it was still determining the terms and scope of the inquiry and did not specify who it would ask to testify. Some Australian parliamentary inquiries have powers to summon individuals to hearings.

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