Govt sets up sweeping social media probe

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The Albanese government will establish a new joint committee to examine growing issues with social media like online scams, illicit content, black box algorithms and Meta’s decision to “abandon” news content deals with publishers.

These and other issues will be examined by a Joint Parliamentary Select Committee into the influence and impacts of social media on Australian society, the government announced on Friday.

The committee will be established when Parliament returns next week and after other MPs and senators provide input on its terms of reference

Communication minister Michelle Rowland and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones in March said the government was “deeply disappointed” in Meta’s decision to stop paying for news content. Image: X

Communication minister Michelle Rowland said social media is now “how millions of Australians connect, access news and run small businesses”.

“Parliament needs to understand how social media companies dial up and down the content that supports healthy democracies, as well as the anti-social content that undermines public safety,” she said.

The scrutiny follow’s Meta’s decision in March to not renew its deals with Australian news publishers, cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars from the industry and daring the government to enforce its media bargaining code.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which oversees the code, is currently drafting advice to the government on the issue.

Social media platforms distribution of illicit content is also under fire, with the online safety regulator on Friday continuing its case against Elon Musk’s X over its refusal to remove videos of an alleged stabbing for users outside Australia.

Both issues will be examined by the committee, which will also look at the role of journalism in countering online mis- and -disinformation, and the “algorithms, recommender systems and corporate decision making” that influences the content Australians see on platforms.

Harmful content like scams, age-restricted content, child sexual abuse and violent extremist material that is disseminated over social media will also be part of the committee’s inquiry.

Assistant minister for financial services Stephen Jones, who has led the government’s criticism of Meta for pulling out of publisher deals, said less new content will “open the floodgates for misinformation and disinformation”.

“We have a clear message for the platforms. Be better. Do better,” he said.

“The committee will put big tech under the microscope to help create a safer online environment.”

Joint committees’ powers and proceedings are determined by resolution of both houses of Parliament.

On Friday, Ms Rowland declined to speculate on which witnesses could be called to appear before the committee, but said she expects its focus will include getting to “the core of people who are making these decisions”.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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