Interview - 3AW Breakfast

Stephen Quartermain and Emily Power
Social media regulations

Stephen Quartermain: Well, Twitter certainly has been in the news the last few days, banning Donald Trump pretty much permanently for his tweets, which led to the horrible incident in Washington. And now, more than 50 Australian MPs have joined a new parliamentary group dedicated to reining in the technology giants. 

It follows Technology Minister Karen Andrews' demand that social media companies adopt a more consistent and transparent rule to protect Australians from vile hate speech on Facebook and Twitter and the like. And she joins us this morning, the Technology Minister, Karen Andrews. 

Good morning to you, Minister. 

Karen Andrews: Good morning, Stephen. How are you? 

Stephen Quartermain: Very well. You’re talking to Stephen and Emily Power. Thank you for your time. What did you make of what Twitter in particular did to Donald Trump over the last few days?

Karen Andrews: Well, I think the really interesting thing is the conversation it has since sparked because there's a fair bit of outrage. People are actually very keen to start understanding really what are the thresholds, what are the rules? Are they subjective? 

So, there's a whole range of questions that come out of this. Now, of course, there's nothing new for private corporations to determine who they will or won't have on various platforms as well. But I think there is a deeper question here that we need to start considering, which is the consistency, the fairness of these various rules. And what is that threshold?

Stephen Quartermain: Well, aren't they more - it's such a hard thing to police because aren't these big, massive companies just a rule unto themselves? How can you, how can you influence them or how can you wield some power against them?

Karen Andrews: Well, I think that's really what the issue is. And what people are very concerned about is, you know, what are rules? You know, how transparent are those rules? Are they subjective? Because there have been many instances of comments that have been taken down from various platforms, but yet in some instances, these platforms are very quick to act when it seems as if the subject content is something that they don't personally agree with. 

Now, that is unfair, it is inconsistent and it lacks the transparency that we are looking for. Now, of course, as a Government, we are well aware of many of the issues in relation to social media and have taken some pretty significant action. We're looking at more powers for the e-Safety Commissioner. That is really important. But the conversation really is about social media ethics. 

Emily Power: Minister, given that Facebook and Twitter are private publishing companies, the way - I suppose there are newspapers as well; how will this parliamentary group motivate or compel them to come up with consistent rules that they all agree on?

Karen Andrews: Well, I think that the first thing is the starting of the conversation. So, we really need to make sure that we listen to what the Australian public is saying as a parliamentary group, the friendship group. So, it's a group of MPs that have - and senators -that have come together because they have very strong views on social media. And, of course, one of the convenors, Anne Webster, has really taken the full force of some of the actions that have been taken against her on social media. 

So, the first thing that that parliamentary group will do is look at what the issues are and how best to prosecute that. But of course, as a Government, we can and will continue to take action, quite aside from whatever advice comes through from that parliamentary group.

Emily Power: Are there double standards, Minister, given that Trump has been removed from Twitter, but every day, even just scrolling now, there is consistently content that is really disgusting?

Karen Andrews: That is the absolute lack of transparency and the subjectivity that I am most concerned about. There needs to be fairness, it needs to be very clear that these rules are being applied in a consistent manner. And it's pretty obvious that at the moment they're not.

Stephen Quartermain: We're speaking with the Technology Minister Karen Andrews. Karen, in Australia, we have some of the toughest defamation laws in the world. Is that somewhat of a help to us when we're being protected from these vile tweets and vile comments made online?

Karen Andrews: Yes, it is. So, you know, we do have legal options available to us as individuals here. And Anne Webster herself is a very good example of an MP that took a very strong stand about comments that were being made about her online. And she took it through the court system. But it's a lengthy process and it's not without a significant impact on the individual concerned. So, what we would also be looking for is not only consistency of rules, but speed of action.

Stephen Quartermain: Yeah, it's going to be one hell of a fight, Minister, but it's -obviously things need to be done. And I know there's the argument: well, it's free speech; we live in a democracy, but there also needs to be a degree of protection. Would you agree with that? 

Karen Andrews: Look, free speech, I'm absolutely supportive of, but it doesn't mean that you get to say exactly what you want any time that you want to say it. There needs to be some boundaries around that.

Stephen Quartermain: Yeah. Thank you, Minister. Excellent. Karen Andrews, MP, Technology Minister.