Interview – 2GB Drive with Luke Grant
12 January 2021
Subject: Social media regulations
Luke Grant: There are growing calls as we’ve been telling you for a few days now, for consistent free speech rules for tech giants. It follows Twitter and Facebook and a number of other social media platforms, so-called, banned the US President Donald Trump. I spoke about it yesterday on the program and how I thought it wasn’t up to those giants or those media sites to determine whose speech we can and can’t be exposed to. Now today we learned 50 MP’s have joined a new parliamentary group dedicated to reining in these tech giants or at least coming up with a consistent and transparent set of rules.
On the line is the Federal Technology Minister, Karen Andrews. Minister, thank you for your time and I think I should still say happy New Year to you.
Karen Andrews: Well, thank you very much and happy New Year to you too, Luke.
Luke Grant: So let's go through- I guess this begins with the President. At least the suggestion has been, and I think most people find it impossible to disagree with it, that in some of his social media postings he incited some of that horrific behaviour we saw in Washington last week. And I made the point to - or I will make the point to another guest later on, what concerns me here is that if we have someone and I think the President has tweeted tens of thousands of times, if he's done something so horrific, if that's the right word, then sure take action. But beyond that, are we not entitled to hear from him? For example, if someone said, Mr. Trump, my wife is terminally ill, there is a cure, it’s available in England, I haven't got the money, can you help me raise money by making aware of this on my social media to your million or 100 million followers? He can't do it. And I just wonder how we appropriately deal with people who say silly, stupid, dangerous things and who otherwise mightn’t do it. How we deal with them?
Karen Andrews: Look, you know, you’ve raised some really significant issues there and some things that we all need to be mindful of. And, of course, as you rightly said at the beginning, over the last couple of days, we've actually seen a significant outpouring of rage about actions that have been taken. And I think that most people are concerned about the fairness of actions the platforms take. Are they being even-handed? Is it clear what's going to happen? What is the threshold and what's the level of subjectivity of these platforms? So I think that it's a good discussion that has been started. It’s clearly something that is of concern to many people. And I think it's right that we now have the conversation to work out well what is the appropriate level of transparency and what are some of the guidelines that can make it really clear.
And let’s not forget too that with Twitter in particular, I mean the President actually fed Twitter for a very long period of time and it really is towards the end of his presidency that they've taken action against him. So I think there's got to be a level of consistency across these platforms and the actions that they’re taking.
Luke Grant: Gee, that's an excellent observation. You're right. For want of a better expression, they cashed in for years on the controversy generated by his postings on Twitter. I guess the other question is, Minister, will they take it seriously? If 50 Australian parliamentarians come together in goodwill and come up with something that the Government says, yes, we should do that. Would a social media giant concede with our requests or are you concerned that perhaps they are, as many of us think, a law unto themselves?
Karen Andrews: Yeah. Look that is clearly one of the issues that we all need to grapple with. Now look there's nothing that would stop a private corporation taking action against achieving what it wants to have on its own platforms, understand that. But social media is still relatively new to us, not just in this country, but around the world. So I think that what we're really talking about is a whole conversation around social media ethics. Not only how does it become a safe place for people, but what are the ethics that should be behind the actions that platforms will take so that they just don't determine who they will and won't have on their platform based on their own subjective assessment?
Luke Grant: I sit here sometimes amazed at some of the feedback we get. We’ll have listeners who will egg me on to be more strident in my criticism of certain individuals and I think to myself, you know, we don't work like that. We've got a broadcast licence issued by the Government that comes with a responsibility. And of course, there's laws of defamation and all these other things which are really important and of course, we respect them here. Don’t we to some extent, reinforce that within social media, if we force people to be properly identified? In other words, you can't appear as you know, [indistinct] 32 XL or something.
Karen Andrews: Yes. I think that that has a lot to with it. It's very easy to hide on a social media platform. It really is. You know, you can come up with a name and there's a level of anonymity behind that. And I think that is concerning because, you know, you do have your keyboard warriors that are out there often late at night, often after a few drinks. And they think that they can type in whatever they want, hit send and away they go.
Luke Grant: Yeah.
Karen Andrews: And what they're doing is patently wrong, patently unacceptable. So I think we have to be very mindful of making sure that there is transparency and that just does go to identity sometimes.
Luke Grant: I think so. When the group gets together and meets, do you intend to come up with a proposal for Government or what is the outcome of the 50 of you gathering and talking about this?
Karen Andrews: Yeah, well I think there's a couple of things that were really interesting. So there are a number of parliamentary friendship groups. This group actually attracted 50 members really very quickly before there was any particular advertising about it. So it indicates the strength of views amongst members and senators. The first question will undoubtedly be a discussion of what the issues are and how they are best approached in the first instance.
Now, as a government we already have done a lot of work with the eSafety Commissioner. We have proposals that are out now in relation to the Online Safety Act that’s out for exposure draft now. So some of that work is already in place now. But the pressing thing for MPs and Senators is to really get a good feel from the public. We’re there to represent their views. So the first stage is really, let’s listen to what the people of Australia are saying, let’s come together and let’s work out how we’re going to deal with transparency, with fairness.
Luke Grant: Okay, terrific. We've just got you, Minister. That line was becoming a little dodgy so we're going to leave it there. We appreciate your time very much indeed and I wish you all the very best. I think Australians demand consistency.
Minister Andrews's office: 02 6277 7070