Australian government considers ban on social media companies


A senate committee in Australia has recommended that social media companies comply with a set of transparency requirements or potentially face a ban. The Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media delivered its final report, proposing 17 recommendations to counter the use of social media as a tool for foreign interference.

The primary recommendation calls for large social platforms to adhere to a minimum set of transparency requirements, enforceable with fines. Platforms repeatedly violating these requirements may face a ban as a last resort. Some of the minimum transparency requirements align with the existing voluntary Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, which companies like Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok, and Twitter have already adopted. The Code demands commitment to combatting mis- and disinformation, including the publication of annual transparency reports.

The proposed Code of Practice is likely to form the foundation of the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (ACMA) mandated code of conduct. This new legislation intends to provide the media watchdog with a more active role in governing the behavior of social media companies operating in Australia.

Government senators, Jess Walsh and Raff Ciccone, responded positively to the committee’s focus on transparency measures, stating that the government would consider implementing the recommended requirements in the forthcoming mandatory industry code. The suggestions include requiring platforms to have an Australian presence, label state-affiliated media, disclose instances of transnational repression, and offer more transparency about how they tackle “coordinated inauthentic behavior”.

However, the proposed “last resort” ban option received some criticism.

Government senators and committee chair James Patterson argued that a ban would be a “whack-a-mole approach” and might be challenging to implement. Despite this, Patterson believes that keeping the option of banning social media platforms “on the table” is essential to motivate compliance with other reasonable requests made by the government.

The proposed mis- and disinformation legislation includes fines of up to two percent of a company’s annual turnover for non-compliance with the mandatory industry code of conduct. Patterson expressed concerns that these fines may not be sufficient to ensure social media companies’ full compliance and stressed the need for serious consequences to encourage adherence to Australian laws and oversight.

One specific platform that has been under scrutiny is the Chinese-owned WeChat, which did not send representatives to the senate committee, leading to accusations of contempt for the parliament. The possibility of banning WeChat has been met with criticism from Australia’s Chinese community, who consider the app a necessity rather than a choice. Professor Wanning Sun from the University of Technology Sydney believes a ban would do more harm than good for the Chinese diaspora.

As discussions continue, the Australian government aims to strike a balance between promoting transparency, safeguarding national interests, and ensuring the well-being of diverse communities that rely on various social media platforms.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here