The government has appointed Australia’s first social media censor, the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner. Alastair MacGibbon will begin work on 1 July 2015.
FreedomWatch has previously covered the potential problems associated with this role. In particular, the commissioners power to issue ‘end user notices’, which compel children to remove social media content, or to even ap0logise for their actions.
Mr MacGibbon was interviewed on AM, by Michael Brissenden, where he addressed these ‘end user notices’:
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: … [H]ow do you deal with the individuals, the trolls, those sorts of people who are out there doing, actually physically doing it online?
ALASTAIR MACGIBBON: … The bill put in by Paul Fletcher actually allows an end user notice, essentially a notification to the person that is posting the material requesting them to take down that material.
If they don’t then the office can go to court to seek and injunction and if that person fails to then act, they’re in contempt of court.
So you don’t necessarily want to be going out and finding kids, but if they breach these social norms then they, and adults, have to be brought to some form of account.
This is just as many feared – that the commissioner will seek to use the court system to remove social media content. Unfortunately, the host did not raise the commissioners more concerning power, which is to force children to apologise. Both are troubling, but is the latter which represents a level of government intrusion that effectively makes all children on social media wards of the state.
Mr Brissenden also mentioned the definition of cyber-bullying under the bill, which uses language such as ‘serious threats’, ‘serious intimidation’, ‘serious harassment’ and ‘serious embarrassment’:
ALASTAIR MACGIBBON: Look, a really tough question so we would usually use the reasonable person test. I’ll make sure that I consult very widely with child welfare groups, child psychologists and others to make sure that we have the right system in place…
The ‘reasonable person’ is a legal fiction, which intends to imagine the cautious or sensible member of the community. One hopes that the new commissioner will cast the net a little wider than child welfare groups and child psychologists to determine what a ‘reasonable person’ would think.
We need to make sure, though, that we look after the interests of the child but none of this really replaces the role of the family, replaces the role of other people who are in direct and physical care of children on a daily basis.
It is a very nice sentiment. Sadly, these measures mean the government is inserting itself right into the centre of the interpersonal relationships of children. If the government is the first port of call in these areas, then ‘the role of the family’, and civil society are at serious risk of being displaced.