Morrison government to beef up social media rules to protect teens

Steve ZemekNCA NewsWire
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has introduced new legislation aimed at beefing up social media laws. NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman.
Camera IconAttorney-General Michaelia Cash has introduced new legislation aimed at beefing up social media laws. NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman. Credit: News Corp Australia

The Morrison government is set to usher in new social media laws aimed at protecting teen users and tightening privacy codes.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash on Monday revealed what she described as landmark legislation after releasing a draft bill to create a binding privacy code for social media companies.

At the centre of the proposed Privacy Legislation Amendment (Enhancing Online Privacy and Other Measures) Bill are greater protections for young users in the wake of concerning evidence about the ill effects that social media can have on teens’ mental health.

Among the proposals is a requirement for social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to take “all reasonable steps” to verify a user’s age.

As well, parental permission will be required for users aged under 16 to sign up.

The government pointed to evidence that the mental health of young people had deteriorated in recent years and was linked to social media.

FEDERAL PARLIAMENT
Camera IconAttorney-General Michaelia Cash has introduced new legislation aimed at beefing up social media laws. NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman. Credit: News Corp Australia

“While some platforms have taken positive steps, many others continue to turn a blind eye to the harm to children when their personal information is misused,” Ms Cash said.

“This world-leading legislation will ensure that the interests of the child always come before the commercial interests of big tech companies.”

Researchers and politicians have become increasingly alarmed about the effects of social media on the mental health of children.

A 2018 survey by the Headspace foundation found that 37 per cent of young people surveyed nominated social media as the reason their mental health had deteriorated.

And in a leaked internal presentation, Instagram said: “We make body-image issues worse for one in three teenage girls”.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, has said in response that it would soon encourage teenagers to “take a break”.

The bill also proposes to hand more powers to the industry’s regulator, the Australian Information Commissioner, and introduce new tougher penalties.

It will set guidelines about how the personal information of young people is used and passed on to other companies.

“Given the information we have seen emerging from social media companies in recent times, it is clear these companies need more oversight, not less,” Senator Cash said.

“For far too long personal data and privacy online has been treated in a substandard manner.

“Understandably, parents expect their children’s personal information to be protected from those that would do them harm online.”

Originally published as Morrison government to beef up social media rules to protect teens

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