Big tech inquiry announced following govt's 'toxic' social media concerns

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Major tech companies will be given another squeeze by the federal government as it launches a fresh inquiry into a number of popular social media sites over their role in "toxic" behaviours faced by users.

It marks the second major inquiry into the platforms announced this week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday promised to "unmask" online trolls with proposed anonymity laws.

A lower house select committee will examine from December what impact algorithms created by the sites, which include Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, have on the mental health of their users.

It will also look at what the tech companies are doing to verify age and identity, their transparency and accountability mechanisms and their efforts to introduce child safety measures.

Mr Morrison said the inquiry would aim to address the concerns raised by parents over what their children were viewing on the websites and determine whether more needed to be done.

"Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure they're safe," he said.

The inquiry will also assess whether industry measures, such as tools that offer parents more control over what their children are able to view, are being implemented.

It comes a month after a whistleblower within Facebook leaked documents showing the tech giant had overlooked, or failed to address, the harms it had created for its users despite commissioning extensive research into them.

Those harms included detriment to user self-esteem and mental health, algorithms encouraging radicalisation and the proliferation of misinformation.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government had passed laws attempting to regulate social media and provider greater powers to the eSafety Commissioner to stamp out online abuse.

The outcome of the inquiry would be an opportunity to assess whether the rules were working effectively.

"The troubling revelations from a Facebook whistleblower have amplified existing concerns in the community," Mr Fletcher said.

"This inquiry will give organisations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct."

A final report by the committee is expected to be presented in February next year.

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The inquiry forms a separate but related part of the federal government's crusade against big tech as it looks to introduce new laws forcing platforms to identity individuals who post defamatory or damaging content.

Mr Morrison said social media sites should not be "a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls" could anonymously bully others.

The bill proposes a complaints mechanism allowing someone, who believes they're being defamed, bullied or attacked on a social media site, to request the company take it down.

"There needs to be an easy and quick and fast way for people to raise these issues with these platforms and get it taken down," he said.

This story Big tech to face inquiry over 'toxic' social media behaviour first appeared on The Canberra Times.