Parliamentary inquiry to examine social media’s impact on Australians’ wellbeing

1 December 2021

The government has announced a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of social media on the wellbeing of Australians.

The inquiry, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will examine how “toxic material” on social media impacts users’ wellbeing.

“Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure their users are safe,” Morrison says.

“Big tech has big questions to answer. But we also want to hear from Australians; parents, teachers, athletes, small businesses and more, about their experience, and what needs to change.”

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher says revelations from a Facebook whistleblower have increased concerns around content on social media platforms.

Earlier this year, Frances Haugen revealed Facebook’s own research shows Instagram was having a negative impact on teenagers’ mental health.

“This inquiry will give organisations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct,” Fletcher says.

“Australia has led the world in regulating social media, establishing the world’s first dedicated online safety watchdog in 2015. In June this year we passed the tough new Online Safety Act which will give our eSafety Commissioner even stronger powers to direct the removal of online abuse.

“So this inquiry will be a very important opportunity to examine the practices of these companies—and whether more needs to be done.”

According to a 2018 headspace survey of more than 4,000 people aged 12 to 25, social media was nominated as the main reason youth mental health is getting worse.

“And the recent leak of Facebook’s own internal research demonstrates the impact social media platforms can have on body image and the mental health of young people.” says Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman.

“We know that we can't trust social media companies to act in the best interests of children, so we're going to force them to."

Sunita Bose, managing director at industry group DIGI which represents Meta, Snapchat, and Twitter, has welcomed the inquiry.

“DIGI shares the Government’s strong commitment to online safety, having partnered with them to develop industry codes of practice on misinformation and for the Online Safety Act,” Bose says.

“We welcome this committee as a way to have a deeper conversation about the immense amount of industry work in online safety – such as policies, teams, technology and partnerships – and the challenges.

“The inquiry also presents an opportunity to ensure consistency, effectiveness and a whole-of-Government approach to online safety, privacy and cyber security.

“With hearings in mid-December, the consultation processes for this inquiry and the many related pieces of legislation currently moving in parallel need to allow time for the broad scope of affected companies, civil society, academics, parents and educators to meaningfully participate.” 

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