Twitter must toe the troll line, says Gillard


news Prime Minister Julia Gillard has singled out social network Twitter for not yet signing up to the Federal Government’s new complaints handling process for major social networking sites, in a speech this morning pointing out that rival companies such as Facebook and Google had already done so.

In a speech this morning, Gillard outlined the Government’s new protocol for dealing with issues relating to social networking sites, particularly the way in which sites interact with law enforcement agencies and address complaints about abusive and bullying behaviour. The protocol, which Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Yahoo! and Microsoft have already agreed to, commits the companies to: Set out clear information about their acceptable use guidelines; Undertake education and awareness raising activities about what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable online;
Have a single point of contact for Government; and Have robust processes in place for reviewing and acting on complaints.

“This is a step forward by these giants of social media,” Gillard told media in Sydney this morning. “We need to see a further step forward. We need to see Twitter, also agreeing to use these protocols and guidelines, because it is on Twitter that so much of the damage has been done, and I do call on twitter to replicate what has been done by other social media companies and embrace these guidelines.”

In a separate statement, Gillard said: “The Government is encouraging other Social Networking Sites to join Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft and sign up to the Protocol; and has commenced discussion with Twitter about doing so. We will continue to work with Social Networking Sites to further develop and enhance the Protocol.”

The Acting Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Kim Carr, said that the protocol was another demonstration of the strength of the Government’s Cybersafety Plan. The Protocol was developed in response to recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety’s June 2011 Interim Report, High-Wire Act: Cyber-Safety and the Young.

The news comes as Twitter appears to be on the verge of establishing an Australian office, with Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop stating publicly this week that she had visited the headquarters of the social networking site and been told such a move was on the way.

Gillard’s call and the release of the social networking guidelines come as the culmination of a long series of complaints by politicians that sites such as Facebook and Twitter were not policing their systems to stop bullies and trolls abusing Australians. For example, three years ago in February 2010, then-Queensland Premier Anna Bligh wrote to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to appeal to the social networking supremo for help in blocking offensive material from being posted on memorial sites for Queensland girl Trinity Bates.

The social networking sites have largely taken a hands-off approach to the situation, but have broadly established points of contact with law enforcement officials to deal with the more extreme cases.

Such is the power of the Internet in modern day society, that if it wanted to, Twitter could essentially ignore Gillard’s calls and the Federal Government’s new social networking protocol until the Government actually made the protocol law. It is really only at that point that Twitter would need to engage with the process, and even then, unless it wanted to have an Australian office or sell advertising or services in Australia, it is doubtful whether it would be in Australia’s legal jurisdiction.

I’m sure that Twitter, like Facebook, will end up eventually working more closely with the Government on these issues. However, the stand-off between these new dot com corporates and Gillard and other Australian politicians does much to illustrate how the Internet has changed matters.

One final question for the Federal Government: If Labor really believes it has the power to bring social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to heel, why not try the same approach on other sections of the Internet … like 4chan, for example?

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. Julia and Stephen haven’t learnt the first rule of the Internet.
    “Do not feed the Trolls”.

  2. What Gillard does not comprehend, and that’s VERY sad given she is allegedly a lawyer (maybe this is why she is no longer a lawyer), that Twitter, with NO Aussie offices or registered company – can ignore her till beyond the end of time, and there is NOTHING she can do about it.

    But it is not really surprising given this is still a labor government rife with intentions on filtering the internet at any and all costs.

    Dear Ms Gillard, I need to cross the road at 4.30pm today, will you be there to hold my hand? *SIGH*

      • They dropped A filtering policy. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the interpol list now their policy? I was under the impression the AFP has been making ISPs enforce the filter?

        • You are quite correct.

          But even so, the AFP have had provisions in place for a great many years, for instance about 8 years ago I was a newsmaster for an australian ISP, I would often get notices form the feds telling us that we had to delete certain groups and prevent them from being re-imported into our servers.

          (The requests although demands, were very politely written, and of the few groups we ever had to ban, I had no problem with given what they were, I wont elaborate further, but I’m sure you have a fair idea on the type)

    • Twitter can ignore Gillard even if they had an Aussie office until the end of time because this is only a voluntary process until it is part of Law.

      Also it in a bullshit policy. Lets see

      “Set out clear information about their acceptable use guidelines; ”
      Twitter actually does this in better plain language than Facebook ever does… the only one that is better in Plain language is Tumbr (and they haven’t signed up)

      Undertake education and awareness raising activities about what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable online;
      Uhuh.. and who is to pay for that and who sets what behavior is acceptable or not. The Australian government? The EU, USA, China, North Korea? OH and who pays for these activities and the promotion thereof.

      “Have a single point of contact for Government; and Have robust processes in place for reviewing and acting on complaints.”
      Again which Government? or even better. What part of government? Should there be some magic big red button that somehow knows you are in a specific jurisdiction and exactly what your situation is and if there is in fact an actual LAW that is actionable on your … lets put it bluntly.. Butthurt?
      As for the complaints procedure, it’s already in place.

      Now the law as it stands interestingly, and Gillard knows this ( or if she doesn’t she is incompetent and should be removed from office due to loss of mental capacity ), can already stop all the illegalities that might occur on Twitter as long as they are infact illegal. Most problems occur where some person feels that another has done them harm of some respect and it comes under civil torts (defamation etc) where there are pure actionable (though carry an expense like all civil matters) ways to stop that IF harm has actually occurred.

  3. Even if these protocols were made law, as long as Twitter had no physical Australian presence they could still ignore the government completely.

    I.E exactly what 4chan does, They have no requirement to follow any laws except the country it resides in, in 4chan’s case the US. There has been a few cases where the AFP have contacted the FBI for assistance in investigating certain threads relating to Australian matters. It is a widely known fact that Moot co-operates with law enforcement in the states (FBI) but what can law enforcement do when a majority of illegal posters are using well hidden anonymizing services such as TOR?

  4. Just got this statement from the Greens on this issue:

    Caution essential in Government interventions online
    Australian Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam. 16 January 2013.

    The Australian Greens have urged a cautious and measured approach in seeking to regulate the way Australians communicate online, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s statement on social media guidelines this morning.

    Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said “we welcome any effort to simplify user agreements and clarify avenues for people to protect themselves online. We are however concerned that a government that wanted to introduce a mandatory internet filter at the behest of extreme religious groups still seems intent on controlling the way we communicate with each other”.

    “Australia already has laws to deal with harassment, defamation, and hate speech.”

    Senator Ludlam is a full member of the Committee that conducted the inquiry into cyber safety and young people online in 2010, and noted that the imperative of being seen to ‘do something’ about trolling may have overtaken adoption of some of the committee’s more far-reaching recommendations on education and digital literacy.

    • Exactly. Regulation & surveillance (required to enforce the regulation) by stealth.

      I’m strongly opposed to introducing ‘Internet-specific’ laws when the ‘crimes’ are already covered under existing law. If there are loopholes in the existing laws due to them not being able to applied to a new medium, then extend the definitions of where they apply to address that failing of law. There are very few new ‘crimes’ or behaviours online—mostly just new ways to execute old ones. In the very few instances where a new technology allows for a new form of crime, then extend related laws to encompass the new crime.

      And is anyone else sick of ‘trolls’ being bandied about in the media and by politicians? In almost all instances I’ve heard, what they mean is ‘bullies’ or even simply ‘mean people’. Trolling can be gentle and reciprocal between friends, or more indiscriminate and nasty. In some contexts, it’s fun and harmless, in others (perhaps most in non-geek circles) it’s annoying or inciteful. But again, if an age-old behaviour that just happens to be carried out online crosses the legal line (harassment, hate speech, vilification, etc.), then prosecute it under those laws. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be breaching people’s (sometimes vital) pseudonymity for the sake of introducing a surveillance state by proxy. OK, :-)

  5. Nothings happens unless you get started and this is just a start.
    While some might complain it happening many others are distressed when abused.
    Just because it’s a social network doesn’t mean everyone on it are social.
    Wouldn’t be the first time Australia leads the way.

    • Trolling and nastiness has been around for centuries, be in in person, in workplace, or school yard, online, hell, those who remember the days of fidonet know full well online trolling has been rife for decades. It happens on usenet, mailing lists, forums, IRC as well, and has done for again, decades, long before the likes of that cesspool facebook or even twitter were dreamt of.

      The online world is exactly the same as the offline or IRL world, there are @$Xholes everywhere, it is about time governments stopped trying to regulate everything just because someone doesnt like something, I’m not condoning the trolls or bullies, but FFS , lets get real here, if you dont like something you avoid it dont you? you dont cross the road without looking whats coming first do you? if you dont like a type of movie (horror), you avoid that type of movie (horror movies), if your related to some extremist nutjob like jim wallace you dont enter certain types of bars or parts of towns after dark – well its the same thing, if you object to sexy type of mags do you cry to the government that you shouldnt see them on advertsing racks when you walk into your newsagent… the list goes on and on and on…

      Some people I think just enjoy making waves from nothing, more people have been libelled IRL than online, more people get bullied IRL than online …

      If you are that think skinned, WTF are you doing on any form of public medium.
      Even Twitter has a setting that allows you to only get messages from people you follow, even a setting for only people who follow you to see what you say, and when facebooks (lack of) privacy temporarily works, I think similar gores for there, and myspace, and….

      Governments who try regulate non Australian orgs on the Internet only show how technically and legally clueless they are, you can only regulate what is based in your country, and even if twitter was, they can STILL tell you go go take a flying leap, if you try enact a law to make them, simply solved, twitter SACKS its local staff and closes its local office, now theres no jurisdiction, so all you’ve succeeded in doing is forcing a bunch of aussies out of a job.

      Basically, its all a load of dressed up political grandstanding in an election year when anyone with an IQ higher than Gillards shoe size knows its complete rubbish and un-enforceable crap.

      If she was serious she would be making it well known about the sections of the Telco Act that have been in place since Adam was a boy, about missuse of carriage services (but again thats only enforceable against Australian citizens who offend)

      • I read a lot of these sorts comments and can only conclude that nobody here knows anything about trolling. Trolling is rarely a valid act of civil disobedience, or of giving someone a “bit of lip”.

        Trolls are commonly just asshats in general. You don’t NEED an internet “profile” or any sort of fame to attract their ire. e.g I recall people trolling forums used by sufferers of epilepsy by posting flashing animated gifs. The trolls would have absolutely ZERO idea who they affected, it was enough that they made someone QQ for the lulz.

        Similar things occur for those who suffer death by violent means or misadventure. A girl crashed her dads car at high speed some years ago, people got crime scene pics of her head splattered open, and posted them on the families memorial page. Thats trolling. You can’t justify that in terms of free speech or “welcome to the internet”. It is quite plainly wrong.

        Telling people they shouldn’t be on the internet if they can’t take abuse is quite backward. May as well say “You shouldn’t be a homeowner if you can’t handle people coming and burning it down from time to time”. Similarly, the “what doesn’t kill me just makes me stronger” line is ridiculous. Tell a polio victim they are stronger for the experience. Tell an anxious depressed teen they are better off for being victimised. Its non-sensical.

        Do I think there is a legislative approach that can “fix” this? Nope, doubt its possible to find a workable international solution. But please, quit excusing people for being pricks just because they can get away with it.

          • One persons hurt is another persons pleasure. Now how to judge who’s feelings are more important?

          • Nobody is saying its fine, but those who pretend it will eventually be stamped out are in denial, why has no one done anything about it before the internet cam along, same with bullying has been around since the dawn of earth.

            The biggest criminal facilitator in bullying is facebook. think about it, if we ran a website like that with people posting , like you indicated, or the tragic suicides, stalkings, and murders that place has caused participated in, we would be shut down and probably imprisoned, but facebook has assisted in so much loss of life and misery, and they laugh in the face of every LEA in the world.

            I guess its true… size does mater.

            If Gillard thinks facebook singing up to their public propaganda smoke and mirrors scheme will actually prevent loss of life or change the way facebook operates – she is living completely in a fantasy world.

            The best thing that could happen to protect life, is facebooks annihilation

          • I really shouldn’t try touch type without proof reading before clicking “post” should I :)

            Renai, we need an “edit” function for typing illiterate’s like me ;)

          • Ah no, but an edit function would allow people to retract unpopular comments and hide from the consequences xD

          • “Ah no, but an edit function would allow people to retract unpopular comments and hide from the consequences xD”

            That’s always been my thought as well :)

          • Yeah true, suppose we could have a changes button, allows to see what was changed from original, like git etc, so if you see a post with “.” you can click history to see what they didnt want you to see ;)

          • You have a 5-10min timeout for edits, so if you accidentally do something you’ve got time to correct it, but after that it’s set in stone.

  6. > “because it is on Twitter that so much of the damage has been done”

    Can someone explain to me how 140 character online messages can do “damage”? I mean, you don’t even see them if you don’t go on Twitter (I don’t) and I would imagine that there’s a block button…

    • There’s alot of kids online that don’t have the maturiy to deal with certain comments

      • It’s also when constructive criticism gets portrayed as bullying.

        For example if I tweeted at a soapie actor “you can’t act to save yourself, go get some lessons”, is that constructive criticism or is that bullying? It’s in the eyes of the beholder really.

        • Exactly perception is everything.
          but even saying simply “your a hopeless actor” is not a breach of any law, its an expression of opinion, the same opinion that actor probably uses twitter for, I mean surely they did not sign up to twitter just to announce when they are easting toast…

          That same person who wants to be in the limelight, has the ability to set twitter to get messages only from people they follow. if they dont understand how to, why is it anyone else’s problem.

          And why do people enter the entertainment or public life if they are not prepared to cop the bad with the good.

      • and thats societies problem how?

        Do you let those same kids go to shops on their own? Yes, I bet so.
        Do you let them walk down the road on their own? Yes, I bet so.

        There are plenty of screwed up people in all walks of life online, but more so OFFline.

        Most parents have the intelligence to know if their kids are mature enough to use the net on their own, or need to be supervised by them.

        • got news for you mate..most parents don’t care what the rugrats are doing til something goes pear shaped..or the po po come knocking…

      • It’s not just online.

        There’s a lot of people everywhere that don’t have the maturity, EQ nor IQ to understand opinion, hyperbole, or sarcasm.

        These are also the type of people who think that bruising there ego, or telling them the unvarnished truth that the King is wearing no clothes should be indictable offenses

    • You sir have never been bullied so don’t understand the context of the situation.

      I believe this is a great policy the government has introduced. If you’re going to try and hide and type abusive letters to people. You will get caught out. What’s with this backlash for what the government is trying to do? Yes yes, it’s the ‘Labor Government” but you shouldn’t just snarl every policy and put them in the one basket.

      In Conclusion, If you’re using the internet in a certain country, why should you have a right to be anonymous and type abusive and harassing mail to others. What gives you that right? It’s not ethical.

          • Comments like these reflect your sense of carelessness and arrogance towards the actual issue. Your comment also depicts how little you know. Make constructive criticism or take a hike.

          • Comments like your own portray just how ignorant you are.

            If I had the choice between the brawls I had to fight at high school (4 year 9’s made it their life’s work to make my year 8 existence hell) and those guys having a go at me on facebook, I know which I would pick. Because you can walk away from the computer (and I never pay much attention to peer pressure or nasty words, I have a pretty thick hide precisely because I didn’t let it get to me). It’s a hell of a lot harder to walk away (or crawl) when 4 guys are beating you up…

            Cyberbullying is a form of abuse, but the obsessive compulsive need to see the opinions of people who don’t bloody matter is the bread and butter of why Facebook bullyiing causes people so much angst, up to and including killing themselves. Living, or dying, by someone else opinion of you is, unfortunately, a terrible habit to get in to, and yet that’s being a teenager. Trying to fit in and gain acceptance even from people you probably wouldn’t care about given a few years of adult perspective.

            And of course my bullying stopped when I managed to get each of the four alone and belted the absolute tripe out of them. I stood up for myself. Still ended up leaving the school at the end of the year because their parents complained that I’d attacked them (after months of reporting the bullying to the principal who did nothing) and I was made out to be the problem… Funnily enough, I ran in to one of those guys when I was 22 and he was very friendly, acted as if we were best friends or something at school. Funny how things work out…

            On the topic of Gillard’s new pointless announcement, the requirement is to put in place a reporting mechanism. While I support Twitter telling the Gillard government to go stuff itself, let’s not pretend for a second this will make kids safer from bullying, or that bullying is somehow worse today than it’s ever been (hint: It’s not, there have always been bullies and there will always be bullies). The problem is that with connectivity, the bullies can now deliver their vitriol 24/7 wherever you are AS LONG AS A PERSON IS GOING TO READ IT.

            A reporting system will not fix this. If these bullied kids haven’t already gone to their teachers, parents etc (ie. have not “dobbed”), and continue to read their Facebook etc rather than deleting their account or switching off the computer, what the hell makes anyone think that a report feature (which Facebook/Google etc already have in place) is going to make kids safe?

            The people who think this is anything but another political stunt to try and raise Jools public opinion rating are kidding themselves.

      • Depends how you define Bullying

        If you define Bullying as making fun of people with no intent to permanently harm, telling them the unvarnished truth, stating your opinion to someone, calling them out on stupid acts they have done and shouting it to the world then you have a problem that sadly is inherent in most people who cannot take personally responsibility and learn how to grow and mature properly.

        If on the other hand you think High level harassment of constantly causing unwarranted harm to another, telling untruths with the purpose to damage reputations and/or contractual agreements etc, or to incite others to do any of the above based on race, creed, etc is wrongful then yes we already have criminal laws to deal with that situation as all civilized communities do.

        As for your statement on why should you be anonymous, I might ask the same of you in that there is no link or otherwise to allow us to see your full name, address and other identifiable facts to ascertain exactly who we are talking too. Or should anonymity only be provided to some and not to others based on your misplaced grandiose ideals and ethics of how YOU want others to act and speak.

  7. Can you believe this ? This is coming from a Labor/Green government who tell us that civil disobedience in the case of the environment is AOK ! So who draws thel ine in the sand as to what CAN be said !

  8. Why is trolling even a thing? If you audition for a reality TV show or if you write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, you are putting yourself in the public arena. This means you cop all the attention directed towards you – praise, criticism, ridicule, satire, idolation etc. So why is it suddenly that just because the medium has changed, it needs a whole new set of regulations and people are now excused for taking personal responsibility?

    If you can’t take the heat, don’t have a public profile on the internet! Sheesh…

  9. I love the Internet because it drive politicians mad. They continually try to control it but haven’t the brains to work out they can’t. Fantastic!

  10. You would think by now Labor would learn the Internet is a hell of a lot bigger then they are and it won’t dance to their tune no matter how many times they stomp their feet and throw a tantrum.

  11. Politicians still do not understand the internet and protectionism only breeds weakness. Julia has once again demonstrated her ignorance.

  12. If Julia wants to tame the trolls, perhaps she could start on her own home turf….question time is a total waste of tax payer money with the amount of trolling going on there these days….

  13. My concern would be people using the complaints procedure to identify critics and whistle blowers note have not had time to read the “Cybersafety plan”

  14. “If Labor really believes it has the power to bring social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to heel, why not try the same approach on other sections of the Internet … like 4chan, for example?”

    4chan work regularly with the FBI AFAIK. They are ahead of the curve. inb4 b& and v&.

  15. If she’s that cranky at Twitter, I’d love to see her have a “conversation” with the Something Awful guys!!

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