The Morrison Government will launch a parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of major tech companies and identify any needs for new legislation. The announcement is another step taken by the Morrison Government to make legislative changes to the abilities and influence of social media companies.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this morning an inquiry would investigate the potential harmful impacts of big tech and social media companies on Australians’ wellbeing. During his statement, Mr Morrison said the inquiry would ask committee policymakers to investigate social media platforms’ algorithms, including how they police and verify age and other personal information.
“Big tech has big questions to answer,” Mr Morrison said. “Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure they’re safe.”
“Mum and dads are rightly concerned about whether big tech is doing enough to keep their kids safe online,” the prime minister said.
The announcement comes in a wave of changes to how Australia interacts and engages with social media and major tech companies.
The News media bargaining code, which was passed in February 2021, introduced a “mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook”.
In late November the prime minister also announced plans to introduce “anti-trolling” legislation which would compel social media companies to divulge the identities of commenters accused of defamation.
This year has also seen major changes in the social media sphere. Facebook—which has now changed its name to Meta—is under the microscope after former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress regarding the harmful impacts of Meta products on young users’ mental health.
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” said Ms Haugen.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who was present for the prime minister’s announcement, noted the “troubling revelations” from Ms Haugen have “amplified existing concerns”.
“This inquiry will be a very important opportunity to examine the practices of these companies, and whether more needs to be done,” Mr Fletcher said.
Public hearings are set to commence this month, chaired by NSW Liberal MP Lucy Wicks. The committee will report its findings by 15 February 2022.