Is Australia on the verge of regulating social media networks?

by Mark Benson on August 10, 2012

in General Information

Is Australia on the verge of regulating social media networks?

After yesterday’s controversy regarding an allegedly racist Facebook page about aborigines the Australian government has certainly come out fighting today amid claims that Facebook, and other social media networks, are doing very little about controversial comments. This is a very serious subject that is causing major controversy not only in Australia but around the world and one which the Australian government is determined to challenge head-on.

Freedom of speech

One of the main elements of discussion with regards to these social media networks and their “controversial content” is freedom of speech. The fact that because Facebook is based in the US, and effectively under US law, the Facebook page in question did not appear to break any US laws and was therefore “legal” in the eyes of the US government has raised some eyebrows. This is despite the fact that the Australian government is adamant that if under Australian laws the page in question would likely have led to an investigation by the authorities and potential criminal charges.

There is a very fine line between freedom of speech and alleged racist comments and this is something which the authorities around the world are very quickly recognising. There is not one government around the globe that has not encouraged the use of the Internet both for personal and business activities and indeed in many ways the beast is out of the box and out of control.

Should social network sites be regulated?

The fact is that social media networks are now commonplace around the world has given them major influence within the global society and global business arena. This influence and power continues to grow and many people believe that social media networks will actually be more powerful than Internet search engines in the months and years ahead. Such is their popularity that they are literally seen by many as their very own online diary and some people post very private and very personal aspects of their life for their friends and family to see.

Up until recently Facebook had no official employees based in Australia although this has changed with a very small team now based in the country. This will potentially give the Australian government more leverage in the future if there are any similar problems to those seen earlier this week and, because the company has a presence in the country, there may be some legal address using Australian laws? This is in effect what the Australian government wants, powerful control over content available to Australian citizens and, in this particular instance, that published by Australian citizens.

Should the masses suffer because of minority groups?

Aside from the question regarding freedom of speech, there is a growing debate as to whether the vast majority of social media network users should suffer because of a relatively small group of people who abuse the system. It is also worth noting that social media sites are now more evident in the business arena than ever before and the introduction of specific Internet-based laws could cause confusion and controversy in the future. However, the reality is that unless regulated by an appointed party there is the potential for social media networks and the Internet as a whole to run out of control.

In many ways the monster which is the Internet has already grown out of control and is now used by criminal groups, terrorists and other elements of the underworld. The very fact that it now allows immediate and real-time communications in just seconds is something which many people have made full use of and not always for legal activities.

Internet taxes

There has been a suspicion for some time that the major developed countries of the world would like to introduce specific Internet taxes in their own domains. They have encouraged, they have nurtured and they have invested in broadband networks around the world and as we have seen over the last few weeks, the Australian government for one is not afraid to introduce controversial taxes which may bring in significant income.

The reality is that governments will eventually find a way to milk the Internet dry, to increase taxes for users and also hit business accounts across the World Wide Web. We have seen this happen in other areas of business such as airlines with governments such as the UK authorities encouraging investment in air travel only then to introduce “green taxes” which added a significant cost to those travelling by plane. There were many complaints from the airline companies although in reality there was very little they could do despite the massive investments they had undertaken on a very different taxation playing field.

Is this a political hot potato?

The very fact that the Australian government has agreed to invest close to AU$40 billion in a new broadband system has very much brought the Internet into the political arena. Therefore it is highly likely that opposition parties will make full use of these controversial issues, with regards to the alleged racist Facebook page, in the run-up to next year’s general election. This places the Australian government in a very difficult position because ultimately if these various websites are based overseas then it is difficult to prove that they should in any way be at the beck and call of Australian laws which may be very different to those in their “homeland”.

There is also the fact that Internet users wish to have as much freedom as possible with regards to their Internet content and any clampdown which may inadvertently impact every day social media networks would not be appreciated. So on one hand the public would like to clampdown on alleged racist pages but on the other hand they wish to maintain the right to “freedom of speech”.

Conclusion

The issue of social media networks and inappropriate content is one which is likely to carry on for many weeks to come. It will come to a head at some point in the future when different local laws will be challenged by the various courts around the world and indeed we could see some major changes in the long-term. However, this would need the cooperation of all governments around the world and at this point in time this is highly unlikely as everyone battles for their share of the internet income pie.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: