Australia, UK, Eire and Fiji Regulators to Push for On-line Security Legal guidelines
Australia’s online regulator will collaborate with representatives from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Fiji to create new laws to combat cyberbullying and abusive content on social networks.
Australia’s eSafety Commission, UK communications regulator Ofcom, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and Fiji’s Online Safety Commission announced the partnership at a conference in Washington DC on Tuesday under the name the Global Online Safety Regulators Network.
According to its strategic plan, the network will “share information, best practice, experience, expertise and support harmonized or coordinated approaches to online safety issues.”
“I’ve always believed the future of effective online safety regulation would involve a network of global regulators working together to make the online world a safer place for everyone,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.
“Today’s announcement is the first step in making that future a reality.”
Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said, “Global companies don’t consider borders as barriers to their business models, and neither should we when it comes to regulating them.”
Concerns Over eSafety’s Broad Powers
However, it is unclear how the network will implement its online safety policy and whether that would change how social media companies regulate users’ content or apply its free speech code.
In 2021, the Australian government proposed legislation that would make social media platforms like Facebook pay Australian news organizations for links shared on its sites.
Facebook responded by temporarily blocking people inside Australia from accessing news stories on its platform.
In February, Facebook said while it supported eSafety’s online safety regulation, the social media giant “do not believe it is appropriate to wholesale apply cyberbullying takedown schemes to private communications, like messaging and email.”
“The challenge with applying bullying regulations to private messaging is that human relationships can be very complex,” said Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy, Australia, New Zealand & Pacific Islands, on Feb. 24, 2021.
She added that the online safety law “grants a single regulator a considerable level of discretion and power over speech online” and called for “clearer guidelines and greater checks and balances.”
Garlick further warned that the threshold set for an adult cyberbullying scheme could potentially “extend the eSafety Commissioner’s regulatory powers to legitimate political speech and debate.”
“There is also the very real risk that this low threshold, as it has in other legislation, would capture political speech: the heat of political debate may result in legitimate political comments that could be considered offensive.”
Risks of Political Comments Being Censored
In August 2022, Facebook briefly censored an Australian independent think tank group for sharing a post saying men can’t get pregnant, then removed the ban following a public backlash.
Women’s Forum Australia, which promotes a pro-women approach to social and cultural issues, posted a screenshot of a tweet on July 22 which said: “Exactly zero men have ever given birth in any year, in any country.”
Facebook removed the post a few days later, explaining that it “goes against our Community Standards on dangerous individuals and organizations,” and told the women’s rights group the decision was “final.”
According to Facebook’s guidelines, what is defined as “hate speech” includes “content that directly attacks people based on … sex, gender or gender identity.”
“Looking back at the post, it is possible that the takedown was due to the usage of explicit words,” Facebook said in a message to Women’s Forum Australia.
However, after the Australian media reported the issue on Aug. 11, Facebook reversed the ban and said it was a mistake.
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at email@example.com.