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Coleman: “Social media’s exploitation of kids has to stop”

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The Hon David Coleman MP has shared his opinion regarding protection for children on large social media sites by fines and heightened security, to prevent online exploitation following the Facebook information leaks. On his media page was posted the following:

“In recent years, we’ve seen concerning trends in kids’ mental health. These trends were already happening before COVID-19, but the pandemic has put many children under more pressure. We’ve seen large increases in the number of children needing mental health support, and in the prescription of anti-depressants to children. Admissions to hospital for mental health reasons are also growing at a much faster rate for children than for the population as a whole. There is nothing more important than the mental health of kids, and we are working across all areas of Government to address these issues, especially those that compromise their safety through exploitation.

“There are many reasons why youth mental health has been getting worse, but it’s clear that social media is part of the problem. For years, there has been concern about the impact of social media on children. In fact, young people have told us this themselves. In a 2018 headspace survey of over 4,000 young people aged 12 to 25, social media was nominated as the main reason youth mental health is getting worse.

“The recent leak of documents from Facebook simply confirms what we already knew: social media can damage the mental health of children. They can be exploited. But the truth is that the social media companies have done nothing much about it. It’s clear that we can’t rely on them to do the right thing by Australian kids.”

“This week, the Government released new legislation for an Online Privacy Code that will require big changes to the way that social media companies operate in Australia. The legislation is currently out for public consultation and we intend to introduce it into Parliament early next year.

‘Under the new law, social media companies will only be able to use children’s data in a way that’s fair and reasonable to avoid compromising their safety and any risk of exploitation. And the main test of whether their behaviour is fair and reasonable will be whether it’s in the best interests of the child.

“Let’s take the example of a social media company sending a child to content about extreme dieting, or eating disorders, or self-harm. Those things are obviously not in the best interests of children. In the future, providing that content to children will be illegal.

“The new law will also require that social media companies get a parent’s consent before setting up an account for any child under 16. The companies will have to take all reasonable steps to verify a user’s age, and ensure that parents decide whether or not kids under 16 can set up an account.

“For years, social media companies said it was all too hard to identify underage kids, but more recently they have acknowledged that they can do it. Facebook alone has identified more than 600,000 underage kids on Instagram in recent months. Under our new law, they will be under a legal requirement to identify these underage kids and get the consent of parents.

“These new laws will be backed up by very large penalties. If a social media company doesn’t act in the best interest of kids, or doesn’t take all reasonable steps to verify a child’s age, they can be fined up to 10% of their entire Australian revenue. For some social media companies, that could be tens of millions of dollars. The big fines are necessary to avoid further exploitation.

“History tells us that social media companies don’t respond to public shaming or a mere slap on the wrist. Heavy financial penalties are required to focus their minds.”

“It’s easy to anticipate the response of the social media companies to this legislation. They will say it will be too hard to implement. They will say they already do lots of things to support children. They will say it shows that the Government does not understand their business model.

“But the Government is taking action because it does understand the business model of social media companies. Part of that business model involves the exploitation of children’s data to generate revenue for the companies, often at the cost of the mental health of the child. That must stop.

“Our job is not to accommodate social media companies. Our job is to protect Australian kids. This legislation breaks new ground in delivering on that most fundamental responsibility.”

 

Original content from The Hon David Coleman MP media page. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.

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