The Australian Government will consider a new bill that would force social media companies to obtain parental consent for users under the age of 16, of face hefty fines if caught.
Which seems largely impossible to enforce effectively, but the draft legislation outlines that social media apps would be required to “take all reasonable steps to determine users’ ages and prioritize children’s interests when collecting data”.
That leaves a lot of wriggle room, as ‘reasonable’ in this context seems fairly broad. But nevertheless, the new enforcement initiative could boost Australia’s social media regulations, and make it one of the most stringent regions for age control in the world, if enacted.
As per Reuters:
“The new law would raise penalties for any breaches of the code, with fines of either 10% of the company’s domestic annual turnover, three times the financial benefit of the breach or A$10 million ($7.5 million). The current maximum fine is A$2.1 million.”
The move comes in the wake of recent reports, based on Facebook’s own research, which show that Instagram can have significant mental health impacts for young users, a finding which various other independent studies have also deduced.
Facebook has refuted such claims, noting that the research referred to was only based on responses from 40 users, and was not be used as a broadly indicative measure. But still, amid the broader narrative that Facebook prioritizes growth, often above all else, it’s not a great look for The Social Network, and it could see more regulatory initiatives like this gain more momentum over the coming months.
Which could have a big impact on how Facebook, and social media platforms more broadly, operate. If social apps are forced to implement more stringent measures, under threat of such heavy fines, each will need to reassess the viability of their apps in these markets, which could even see some removed from certain regions.
To be clear, neither Facebook nor any other platform hasn’t gone this far as yet, but Facebook did deactivate news Pages entirely on its platform earlier in the year, in response to another Australian Government initiative, and if the regulations around what “take all reasonable steps” means in this context actually add more complexity to enforcement efforts than they’re worth, we could, again, see some companies considering the removal certain elements to avoid any risk.
In a broader sense, it’ll also be interesting to see the actual details of the Australian proposal, and how they may be applied in other regions. Governments and regulators around the world are now looking at Facebook, and its impacts, with the latest insights into its effects now available for all to see.
Will that lead to stricter regulation?
I mean, the real question is ‘what’s the alternative?’ It’s one thing to say ‘Facebook’s bad, someone should do something about it’, and another to actually enact effective rules.
Which, again, is why proposals like this are interesting, in that they put Facebook’s policies and processes to the test. And while most of these pushes end up petering out or merging into a less impactful settlement, the momentum does seem to be swaying more heavily against The Social Network in such decisions.
Ahead of World Cup, influencer ‘Mr Q’ lifts veil on Qatar
Khalifa Al Haroon, known to his followers as Mr Q, has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil on World Cup host Qatar – Copyright AFP KARIM JAAFAR
At a time when prickly questions are being asked about Qatar and its hosting of the World Cup, Khalifa Al Haroon offers a smile, a sigh and a shrug as he seeks to explain its mysteries.
Known to his growing number of followers as Mr Q, the 38-year-old has become a social media hit by partially lifting the veil over the tiny but mega-rich Gulf state that describes itself as a “conservative” Islamic country.
The first World Cup in an Arab nation has put a spotlight on Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers, gender rights and even the use of air conditioning in stadiums.
Haroon’s cheerful #QTip videos broach everything from saying “Hello” in Arabic to the right way for men to wear the flowing ghutra headdress. There is also an edition on labour rights.
With less than 60 days to the November 20 start of the tournament, he now has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram and more than 115,000 on YouTube. And the numbers keep growing.
Qatar has dozens of online influencers on topics ranging from “modest” but expensive fashion, to the latest sports car being imported into what is now one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Haroon carved out his niche by elucidating Qatar’s unknowns to its growing expat community — and now the hordes of football fans expected for the World Cup.
Haroon — who was born to a Qatari father and British mother and spent 16 years in Bahrain — said he was first confronted by global stereotypes about Qatar and the Middle East while studying for a law degree in Britain.
He had wanted to become an actor, but instead launched his social media presence in 2008 with a blog.
“I was in the perfect position because I was a Qatari who has never lived properly in Qatar,” he said.
– ‘Trust your own eyes’ –
“In essence, I was like a foreigner in my own country and so I had the same questions that foreigners did, and so it just made it easy for me to start putting together information.”
Haroon said there has to be a distinction between “negative news” and misinformation about his country.
“When it comes to fake news, obviously, I think everybody understands that it’s not true and so the only thing that I could do is show people videos and pictures and show them what we’re really like because you can trust your own eyes.”
Some people, he said, have told him they decided to move to Qatar after watching his videos.
Haroon, who is now a consultant to the Qatar Football Association and an eSports entrepreneur, said he is excited about the World Cup “because people can now come here and experience it for themselves and make their own judgements instead of just believing what’s written”.
His main grouse is how outsiders see something negative about Qatar and then believe that all Qataris “accept it or we all agree with it”.
Many supporters of the 31 foreign countries who will play in Qatar have raised concerns, however, about the welcome awaiting them. Can they drink? And what will happen to same-sex couples in a country where homosexuality is illegal?
The government has insisted that beer, normally restricted, will be available and that everyone is welcome. Haroon wants outsiders to experience “real Qatari hospitality”, with its food and coffee culture.
“Of course there are going to be certain social norms,” said Haroon. “What we are asking for is just respect the country. And of course the country will definitely be respecting everyone that comes.”
“Some people might make mistakes because they don’t know what the rules are and that’s OK,” he added.
“The point is our culture is all about intention, our religion is about intention, so as long as you have good intentions and you want to do the right thing, you have nothing to worry about.”
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