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