Australian Government to Establish Online Safety Youth Advisory Council

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
and Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev
Daniel Khmelev is an Australian reporter based in Perth covering energy, tech, and politics. He holds bachelor's degrees in math, physics, and computer science. Contact him at daniel.khmelev@epochtimes.com.au.
December 16, 2021 Updated: December 16, 2021

The Morrison government is set to establish an Online Safety Youth Advisory Council to combat online trolling and hold social media giants to account.

According to a media release on Wednesday, up to 20 young Australians aged 13 to 24 from diverse backgrounds will form the Council, which will advise the federal government on online safety issues that impact young people.

The council will engage in various forums looking into online safety issues such as privacy, mental health, bullying and harassment, after which it will provide reports to the government, recommending action that can be taken by industry, government and regulators such as eSafety.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the council would give young Australians a voice in the development of online safety policy.

“Young people know better than anyone about the good, the bad and the plain ugly that exists in the online world,” he said.

“They are the first generation of Australians to grow up living simultaneously in both the real and digital worlds, and they are always at the forefront of new technologies.”

Morrison also said that many parents and decision-makers don’t have a good understanding of this issue as they haven’t “lived this experience like they [youth] have,” and that this generation of young Australians is best placed to say what needs changing and how.

“This is the next step my Government is taking to keep Australians, especially young Australians, safe online. The rules that exist in real life, must apply in the online world too. We will hold big tech and social media giants to account.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Shadow Minister for Youth but had not received a response at the time of publication.

This comes as the Australian Government moves to introduce new legislation that forces social media platforms to disclose the identities of online trolls.

If passed, the new legislation would become one of the world’s strongest online trolling laws, with social media companies considered publishers and held liable for defamatory comments posted on their platforms. However, the companies can avoid liability if they reveal the identity of individuals accused of defamation, which would allow legal proceedings to commence against the individual responsible for the trolling.

Announcing the proposed legislation on Dec.1,  Prime Minister Morrison said that “Free speech is not being allowed to cowardly hide in your basement and sledge and slur and harass people anonymously and seek to destroy their lives. That’s not freedom. That’s cowardice. And there’s no place for that in this country,” he said.

Under the regulation, companies would have to establish not only a new complaints reporting system to address defamatory remarks, but it may also mean new and existing users would have to provide identity documents to use services like Facebook or Twitter. It is also unclear what the parameters are around designating an individual as a “troll.”

However, the new laws have been met with concerns it would take the onus away from social media giants themselves regulating the online environment.

Reset Australia—the Australian branch of a think tank focusing on digital threats to democracy—has said that harmful and sensationalist claims made online were often perpetuated by social media giants’ attention-based business model.

“Social media companies promote, amplify and profit from hate—catching trolls won’t end online hate,” Executive Director of Reset Australia Chris Cooper said.

“Forcing social media companies responsible for coughing up the identity of individuals does not hold the platforms accountable for their profit-making amplification that enables that content to go viral.”

Cooper also pointed out that such powers would remove the shield offered to individuals, such as whistleblowers, who speak out against the government or its officials.

“Online anonymity does protect trolls from accountability, but it also is an important tenet of a free and open internet that protects critics of the powerful which can hold leaders accountable,” Cooper said.

A similar sentiment had previously been expressed by Twitter’s public policy director for Australia and New Zealand, Kara Hinesley, who argued that several groups at risk included journalists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders, and dissidents.

“Anonymity can be a form of protection and a critical tool for people,” Hinesley said, reported ZDNet.

The Online Safety Youth Advisory Council will be coordinated by eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, with the nomination and selection process for members being announced early in 2022.

Steve Milne
Daniel Khmelev is an Australian reporter based in Perth covering energy, tech, and politics. He holds bachelor's degrees in math, physics, and computer science. Contact him at daniel.khmelev@epochtimes.com.au.