Coalition eyes content kill-switch on social networks

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Coalition eyes content kill-switch on social networks

Aims to hit harmful material.

The federal opposition is canvassing a co-regulatory proposal to force social media networks to remove content deemed "likely to cause harm to an Australian child".

The coalition today released a discussion paper (pdf) on issues of child safety on the internet, brought about by consultations through its Online Safety Working Group formed earlier this year.

One of its key suggestions is to set up a "Children's e-Safety Commissioner" or similar body to coordinate "a national response to online safety".

Among other responsibilities, the commissioner could be responsible for administering a "co-operative regulatory scheme that applies to large online social media outlets operating in Australia".

The scheme would be backed by legislation and would effectively force social media networks to take down content "targeted at and likely to cause harm to an Australian child".

Social media sites would have "a short period (around 48 hours) to act on a complaint. If they did not - for example, if they didn't believe the material was harmful - it would be referred to the Commissioner to make a formal direction.

The coalition proposed that "an interested party (including the complainant, the large online social media outlet, or the author of the material subject to the complaint) could go to court to challenge a decision by the Children's e-Safety Commissioner."

"This would be an important safeguard against the scheme being used as a means to suppress free speech," it said.

"While it would be a potential threat to freedom of speech to expect large social media outlets to remove material directed at adults, expecting them to remove material posted online that is targeted at, and harmful to, a particular child is a legitimate limitation on that freedom.

"Dangerous and harmful material directed at children cannot be excused on the basis of freedom of speech. The Coalition does not support heavy handed regulation of the internet. But we do believe that more can be done to protect children online."

The coalition also proposed establishing national standards for parental control tools that can safeguard children's access to the internet.

In addition, it said it would look at whether law enforcement authorities had the resources to deal with cases that involved child safety on the internet.

Critically, the coalition also said it would canvas whether existing Australian Federal Police resources for policing the internet can be "redirected ... to address emerging online priorities", suggesting police could face a future reshuffle in the way they target nefarious online activity, if the coalition wins power.

"What I hope our paper will do is stimulate discussion – and a process in which social media outlets and other internet companies can demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility in protecting children from harm', Liberal MP Paul Fletcher said.

The Government is already forcing internet service providers to block access to child abuse websites featuring on an INTERPOL list. The list would be maintained locally by the Australian Federal Police.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the coalition's approach to addressing child safety was "exactly the approach the Government has been taking for the past five years".

"The Government has established cooperative relationships with social networking sites, including Facebook, to ensure material that is offensive or breaks Australian law is removed as quickly as possible," Conroy noted.

"It is pleasing that the Coalition is adopting the Government's policies in this area.

"We look forward to this bipartisan support continuing for other important policies, like the National Broadband Network."

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