Australia to establish youth advisory council for countering online child exploitation

Australia will create a new panel consisting of Australian youths and young adults that will provide consultation to industry and government about how to approach regulating online platforms.

“Young people know better than anyone about the good, the bad and the plain ugly that exists in the online world,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “They are the first generation of Australians to grow up living simultaneously in both the real and digital worlds, and they are always at the forefront of new technologies.

“This is something that so many parents, and indeed decision makers, don’t always understand, because we haven’t lived this experience like they have. This is why there is no one better placed to tell us what needs to change and how, than this generation of young Australians.

The Online Safety Youth Advisory Council will comprise of up to 20 young Australians, aged between 13 and 24, who will be drawn from a “wide range of backgrounds” to provide feedback to government on the challenges and solutions to online safety issues impacting young people.

The council will be coordinated by eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who will commence the selection process for council members in January.

The members will participate in a range of forums examining online safety issues such as bullying and harassment, mental health, privacy, the impact of algorithms and unwanted contact from strangers, and will report to government with recommendations for further action that can be taken by industry, government, and regulators like eSafety.

Inman Grant said the decision behind creating the council was to allow Australian youth to have a voice in shaping the online world through a deep formalised engagement.

“One thing we found when we engaged young people was that they think about technology in different ways, they use technology in different ways that we do, and they also expect different things from the technology behemoths in terms of the protections that they want to see and what is intuitive to them so we cannot be making policy and creating resources without their authentic voices and without their engagement,” Inman Grant said.

Inman Grant explained that the council would accept members aged as young as 13 as that is the minimum user age of major social media platforms. She added that a voice for Australian youth was needed as her agency has seen children as young as eight experience cyberbullying and fall prey to self-produced child sexual abuse material.

“Kids are online earlier or earlier than they should so I think 13 is a totally appropriate age for them to start,” the eSafety commissioner said.

Inman Grant’s comments follow her agency last week telling a parliamentary joint committee that social media platforms moving towards encrypted communications could create a dynamic where they effectively become “digital hiding places” for child abuse material.

The agency also shared its worry that platforms may claim they are absolved of responsibility for safety because they cannot act on what they cannot see.

The testimony was made to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, which disclosed last week it was contemplating whether social media platforms should be regulated as carriage service providers to address the problem of online child exploitation.

The Online Safety Youth Advisory Council will aim to start conducting meetings around mid-2022, but Inman Grant noted that the outcomes set out for the council will not have a definitive timeline.

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