Australia spearheads online safety push

Australia's eSafety Commission will team with online regulators from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Fiji to create new laws combating abuse, harmful content and illegal material on social networks.

Representatives for the four countries announced their partnership at a conference in Washington DC on Tuesday, revealing the Global Online Safety Regulators Network would collaborate on an "international approach to online safety regulation".

The news comes after Australia introduced a world-first adult cyber abuse scheme and Online Safety Act in January, and follows major cutbacks to online safety and moderation teams at Twitter and Facebook this month.

The collaboration received early praise from social media experts who said the fight against online abuse and trolls needed "all the firepower" it could get.

The group will be made of Australia's eSafety Commission, UK communications regulator Ofcom, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and Fiji's Online Safety Commission.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said teaming up would allow the agencies to share information and develop consistent laws, avoiding a "splinternet" of rules for social networks and their users across different countries.

"I've always believed the future of effective online safety regulation would involve a network of global regulators working together to make the online world a safer place for everyone," she said.

"Today's announcement is the first step in making that future a reality."

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said sharing experiences and research across countries would help to ensure the safety of "everyone from Melbourne to Manchester".

"Global companies don't consider borders as barriers to their business models and neither should we when it comes to regulating them," she said.

Each of the regulators involved has introduced online safety laws to address abuse, cyber bullying and trolling since 2018, including Australia's Online Safety Act that introduced an adult cyber abuse reporting scheme in January, and the UK's Online Safety Bill that directed social networks to remove illegal and potentially harmful content.

Swinburne University social media senior lecturer Belinda Barnet welcomed the collaboration, saying it could "inspire new ideas" for tackling harmful content across Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and other networks.

"We need all the firepower we can get," she said.

"Australia has been very good at implementing policies that are innovative in digital media and will have a lot to share with other countries."

But Dr Barnet said Australia could also benefit from guidance on "data privacy and protection" for social media users, where its laws often fell behind the rest of the world.

The online safety announcement also comes after concern about widespread job cuts at Twitter and Facebook which have hit staff members in charge of moderating hateful content.

Twitter's former trust and safety head Yoel Roth said 15 per cent of the social network's moderation team was laid off following orders from new owner Elon Musk, making it one of the better protected areas within the company that saw 50 per cent of jobs cut.

Mr Roth resigned from his position days after making the statement.

Facebook also recently announced plans to cut 11,000 jobs, or 13 per cent of its workforce, and had already begun reducing its content moderation team in Europe.