Social Media Platforms

15 February 2021

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (10:47): This is a serious issue, and I completely understand the member for Mallee bringing this forward. The member for Mallee has been subjected to unacceptable behaviour online. I know what it's like, as a member of parliament myself. When social media started to get its foothold in this country—MPs were using it and in particular where the public was using it—I felt the full force of this unacceptable behaviour, which was particularly focused on my faith. Certain people online used my faith, at various points, to press their case. It's very Islamophobic behaviour that many of us have felt. I know the member for Cowan has gone through the very same thing. In my case, it happened many years ago. The member for Cowan can testify for herself as to what she has been through. It doesn't feel good. You particularly feel it as a member of parliament because you've got a public persona. The people that are close to you feel it, but also the people who are in a similar situation feel it really badly as well. It is not a nice thing to go through.


It has not just been with some of these forums. It's been going on ever since the first virtual online communities were created, back in the mid-eighties. For example, the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link—WELL, as it was known

—was the first of this type of community. Created in the US, it was designed to connect people and, in their view, enable much better ways for people to relate to each other. They thought it would be a positive move. Sure enough, they soon found that it became very problematic. People, for some reason, felt like they had a licence to behave in a way that they would never do if they were physically in the person's presence. In person, they would never say those things to other people in that way and conduct their affairs in that manner. So there is something to be said about going online and treating people in way in which we would not do if we were in their presence. It is an issue, and it's something that we have not really been able to deal with.


The member for Mallee referenced some of the legislative things we could do here. In the US, a lot of these firms are given licence to not be held responsible for what appears on their platforms through a thing called section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. So there is an active proposition being chased by some people in the congress, like Mark Warner, to deal with this. But it is a big issue. The thing is, Facebook, Google and Twitter didn't create Islamophobia, homophobia, racism or sexism but they've certainly helped give voice to the legitimacy of the views, and some of the material they've taken off has just been staggering. For example, in the stats for the final quarter of 2018, YouTube removed nearly 19,000 videos and 2,000 channels for violating its hateful or abusive content policy, and in the third quarter of 2018 Facebook took action on nearly three million pieces of content that violated its hate speech policies and 15.4 million pieces of violent and graphic content.


Good on them, because when I raised some of the stuff that occurred previously it took a hell of a long time for anything to happen. I do commend them for taking it, but it has taken a while. A lot of the online platforms have said it's too hard to know what's on their platforms and to deal with. I think a lot of people would believe that is hard to stomach or accept. They do have a capacity to do more, and they should—absolutely—do more. There is still content on pages of these platforms that is absolutely disgusting and should be tackled. Last year, for example, I received a letter from a community organisation that had referenced a University of Victoria report on online Islamophobia and fascism. The report found that although Facebook algorithms were designed to delete posts containing profanities in them they don't necessarily pick up on the insidious nature of some extremist material. That report analysed just over 40,000 posts from 12 far-Right Facebook groups with posts that strongly targeted people on the basis of religion.


I haven't heard the government deal with that, not at all. I haven't heard them come in and say it. I respect the member for Mallee has been targeted, but we should not have to wait for action because one government MP was targeted. Lots of people in the community have been targeted by this and we have not seen any action out of the government. Worse still, this parliament held an inquiry into this issue in 2018, into the adequacy of existing offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code and of state and territory criminal orders to capture cyberbullying. It made a number of recommendations, including: placing regulatory pressure on the platforms, to both prevent and quickly respond to cyberbullying; that the Australian government legislate to create a duty of care, on social media platforms, to ensure safety; that the government increase basic online safety requirements



for social media services; and to ensure that the Office of the eSafety Commissioner is adequately resourced to fulfil all its functions.


We've contacted the committee secretariat and the tabling office on this inquiry. On 28 March it will be three years since this inquiry was tabled with the government, and there's been no response. So we've got this resolution now, we've had all these cases where concerns have been raised, yet nothing has been done by the government. And it's good—


Dr Aly interjecting—


Mr HUSIC: Exactly. I'll take that interjection from the member for Cowan, because it wasn't them. For ordinary people in the community who are targeted for a whole host of things, in terms of racist and homophobic language, those issues aren't taken seriously. The government has a report on this. They've been asked to deal with it and they don't. This is the real issue: it shouldn't take one government MP to be affected before this—I totally respect and understand how much money the member for Mallee, as she detailed in her contribution, undertook. She should not have to go—no-one should have to pay $100,000-plus on legal fees to deal with this. It should be taken seriously.


The other thing is it's not just the platforms where this has become an issue. The platforms give a space for this to rise. What I want to know from the government too is why don't they take this stuff seriously at its source, not just the platform but at its source? How come, whenever we have raised the issue of far Right extremism, which has driven a lot of bad behaviour online, it has taken ages for it to be responded to?


We only got an inquiry into far Right extremism when the government were happy that it didn't just target far Right extremism and didn't mention it. It could only be referenced as 'extremism'. Yet we've been saying for ages that this is an issue. The agencies have said, 'This is a problem.' They are concerned about word transforming into deed and impacting on people's safety, and we've had no serious commitment out of those opposite as a government. A responsible government would take this seriously. They would absolutely treat this seriously. They would go to the source, not just to the platform that creates the environment for this hateful stuff to be said. They don't take it seriously.


If the government were serious not only would they respond to reports saying, 'Treat cyberbullying, hate speech and this terrible online behaviour seriously,' and deal with that but they would also treat seriously this issue of far Right extremism. I don't care if it is an Islamist or a far Right extremist; anyone who threatens the Australian public should be dealt with forcefully. But it seems to me that it takes a hell of a long time to deal with far Right extremism. With Islamists we've seen proscription of groups. We've seen a hell of a lot of action on banning groups that don't even operate here if they're Islamist. But, if they're far Right, it takes a hell of a long time for anything to happen.


The minister here is getting uptight about it. But do you know what makes me uptight? I don't like it when I see people using Nazi salutes in protests in Melbourne. I don't like it when I see swastikas being held up in people's homes. I don't like it when we hear of those groups collecting ammunition and weaponry. And I don't like it when we have a government minister in the form of the home affairs minister who cannot mention far Right extremism without having to also reference Antifa, as if you can only acknowledge it if it is balanced out that way. It's wrong. People deserve to have their safety taken seriously. (Time expired)