Trial age verification to block children from social media, Coalition argues

Trial age verification to block children from social media, Coalition argues
  • PublishedApril 24, 2024

The federal opposition is urging the government to trial age verification on social media, wanting to block young Australian children from accessing platforms and being exposed to harmful images and videos.

The calls have ramped up in the wake of the latest legal stoush between the federal government and tech billionaire Elon Musk, over demands for his platform X to block access to a video of a stabbing at a Sydney church last week.

The matter is due to be heard in the Federal Court, with lawyers for X insisting the Australian government, through the eSafety commissioner, should not be able to censor content on the platform and demand global restrictions on images and videos.

Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman has been campaigning for age verification to be used online for some time, and wants it to cover basic access to social media.

“There’s no question that social media is damaging for the mental health of children,” Mr Coleman said.

“There is ample evidence to show that we need, as a society, to take strong action on this issue, and that is about verifying age and saying if a child is too young to be safely on social media, they shouldn’t be there.

“Tragically, there’s no doubt that thousands of children in Australia have seen extremely disturbing images on social media in the last two weeks, and we’ve got to stop that.”

Mr Coleman said other countries were already acting, with a number of US states putting in place or trialling age verification laws for content such as pornography and imposing age limits on social media.

The state of Utah is one example, which insists on parental consent for minors wanting to use social media.

“We need to do the age verification trial that the eSafety commissioner recommended more than a year ago,” he said.

“It’s self-evident that it is not good for a young child to be exposed to all of the sorts of material that we see on social media.

“And that’s been very sadly demonstrated again, in the last two weeks.”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland described it as a “very live issue”, and said it was being considered as part of a review into Australia’s online safety regime.

“There’s not a single parent who isn’t concerned about what their children are seeing,” she said.

“At the same time, we’re looking at other issues, the harms to children, including by having recommender systems that push content like misogynistic rubbish and eating disorder videos of children.

“We’ve also got my department scoping what can be done at the moment on age assurance mechanisms — but again, I will detail what eSafety has said in terms of a number of these issues: there’s no silver bullet when it comes to these matters.”

In its formal response to the eSafety commissioner’s Age Verification Roadmap in August last year, the federal government wrote broader “age assurance” technologies were immature, but developing.

The government responded that at present age verification tools clearly came with issues of privacy, security and effectiveness.

Mr Musk’s hostility towards Australian politicians has continued since he goaded the prime minister yesterday in posts on X.

After crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie deleted her X account in response to Mr Musk’s approach to violent content on the platform, he attacked the senator in two posts, saying she had “utter contempt for the Australian people” and was “an enemy of the people”.

Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume told Channel Seven that X was a “horrible place to be”, and that the day she retired from politics she would follow Senator Lambie in deleting her account from the platform.


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