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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Social media giants in Claydon’s sights

A Newcastle MP has heaped criticism upon Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack following his remarks about Donald Trump’s social media conduct and is leading the way in parliament’s struggle against the big tech giants.

On Monday, the Nationals leader labelled last week’s insurrection on the US capitol building in Washington DC as “unfortunate”.

Federal MP for Newcastle Sharon Claydon said Mr McCormack’s comments were a “gross misread” of the level of violence and concern of communities across the United States and Australia in response to an “assault” on democracy.  

“I think the comments are very disappointing; it was a terrible attack on our democratic system and an assault on democracy,” she explained.

“It misreads what in fact took place, the significance of the violence, and community sentiment, I believe. I think he’s misread what both people in the United States of America, and Australia, think about insurgents storming parliamentary processes.”

The violence in America’s capital sparked conversations worldwide regarding the influence of social media fuelling the fire of polarisation, anger, and violence.

President Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter, which Ms Claydon said was the “right call”.

“I think that using platforms to incite violence is a clear, a demonstrably clear breach of the self-regulatory policies that those entities have,” she said.

“The question for me really is why it took them four years to do that, because Donald Trump was using those platforms to incite violence, to spread hate speech, to spread dangerous misinformation at a time of a global pandemic and only now have they chosen to exercise their powers of self-regulation.”

A new parliamentary group will examine the role of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter.

Ms Claydon is a vocal critic of the “self-regulation” policies that governs content on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which, she believes, is problematic due to a vacuum of law and jurisdiction examining the methods in which self-regulation is implemented by social media platforms.

“They [digital tech giants] regard themselves as global entities, are really accountable to no-one, and that’s a problem in terms of when they are asking to be trusted to self-regulate,” she said.

“The policies and the way in which they implement their policies must be open and transparent, and that’s sadly lacking.”

Ms Claydon, alongside a coalition party member, has set up Parliamentary Friends to Make Social Media Safe, a cross-party group that she will co-chair.

It is designed to examine the “huge vacuum in law” that will hold social media platforms to account.

“When I have had them in front of me before parliamentary committees [in the past], where I’m empowered to ask questions on behalf of people I represent, they have often failed to respond,” she said.

“And, you’ve seen this not just in Australia, but Facebook, Google and those guys refused to come up in front of the US Senate committees.

“It’s only been of late that they’ve started to answer to some of the questions being raised by elected representatives in the US – they pick and choose in Australia when they turn up to answer questions.

Parliamentary Friends to Make Social Media Safe is trying to ensure that, as lawmakers, we start having conversations among ourselves, and getting advice from other jurisdictions that are trying to tackle this growing issue.

“Now we’ve got a bunch platforms not accountable to any elected governments, and being utilised to really undermine democracy in many parts of the world.”

Ms Claydon said she recognised the “important role” that social media companies played through “[enabling] access, opening doors and providing windows into participation for all kinds of people who might otherwise be closed out of social conversations”.

But she says the time is very appropriate to look at the way in which those platforms have chosen to implement those policies.

“The community knows that social media platforms can be used for good, but they are also the brunt of the hurt, the hate, and misinformation that has been spread,” she said.

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