Govt social media complaints protocol: toothless tiger?

 It’s been almost a week since TV personality Charlotte Dawson died.

Since then, there have been a lot of conversations around trolling, cyberbullying, mental health, the responsibilities of social media networks, and the federal government’s Cooperative Arrangement for Complaints Handling on Social Networking Sites  (scroll down to the PDFs).

The protocol has been signed by Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.  Some people have called on Twitter to sign the protocol, pointing out it is one mainstream popular network which hadn’t signed it.

Twitter (a space where an anonymous identity can be relatively easily maintained, and where some of the most vicious trolling can take place) stands out for its lack of participation when it comes to the protocol. I found that strange, so I took a look at what the protocol entails.

Have you read it?

It contains 12 commonsense principles, asking social networks to have (amongst other things):

  • Policies for acceptable use
  • Complaint mechanisms
  • An identified contact person
  • Education and awareness raising (giving people the tools and knowledge to navigate their sites safely)
  • A process to quickly remove any child abuse material

Does this sound like anything startling and new to you?

To my mind, from just a quick observation, the major social networks have been delivering on these principles for years and that includes Twitter.  The protocol looks very much like a political PR exercise, a chance for the government to ‘tick the box’ and say it has taken some sort of steps to sort out the world of trolling. Yet there’s little that’s compelling, new, hopeful or satisfying in there.

Of course this doesn’t only happen to the social media industry. I’m sure the building, hospitality, retail, real estate, transport industry and more have all had their fair share of fruitless protocols that governments have asked for them to sign. If you’re waiting for government to lead the way in cybersafety, you may be sorely disappointed.

Former PM Julia Gillard introduced the protocol a few years ago and elements are still a work in progress. Much of this has a focus on children, including:

  • Establishing a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner to take a national leadership role in online safety for children
  • Improved support for schools through a stronger online safety component within the National Safe Schools Framework

Of course, we know that trolling has an awful impact on adults, not just children … that aside, perhaps the most interesting proposal from the list is this:

“Investigating options for a simplified cyberbullying offence”.

I’d be intrigued to see what that looks like. That’s where some gains might be made – but what does ‘simplified’ mean? Changes to the law? Improved access to legal assistance?

Right now, public submissions are still being accepted. But you don’t have long: the deadline is Friday, 7 March.

In the meantime, it seems a waste of time to call on Twitter to sign the protocol, when it does already have Twitter Rules, the ability for users to flag and report content, a policy to suspend accounts that violate the rules, the ability for users to block others, and a safety team available 24 hours a day and more. I’d prefer us to focus our energies onto the law. And fast.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Janice says:

    This may appear a gross over simplification of things, but why is there not more emphasis on the power that every single person has via blocking? There does not seem to be much focus on the fact that we can all block people who are bullying, nasty or whatever. Why is that? Is this evidence of us becoming a nanny state in social media terms?

    1. Prakky says:

      Thanks for reading, Janice. I think educators and some commentators have a big emphasis on emphasising the ‘block and report’ tools but then there’s the legislative discussion remains. Perhaps that’s because some serial trollers can harm a lot of people; they can easily set up new accounts; and so on. But yes, I’m a believer in blocking/reporting where you can – it could help someone else.

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