Back in January 2018 I published an opinion piece on LinkedIn and in the print media that suggested parallels between Australia’s unregulated social media and the USA’s inability to curb access to guns. I argued that both things cause the death of children and that the blame lay with our respective governments who do nothing to stop it.
Controversial as it may have been at the time, I certainly haven’t changed my opinion in the last 12 months, but governments around the world finally seem to be reaching the same conclusion. There is now a growing view that giant social media corporations such as Facebook and Instagram have an unhealthy sway on far too many aspects of our lives – everything from enabling rampant cyberbullying and an open platform for radicalisation, to facilitating electoral influence by foreign powers and the propagation of harmful conspiracy theories (think anti-vaxxers).
Now at last, and very belatedly, we are seeing countries such as the UK and the USA (ironically some would say), and regions such as the EU starting to make noises about imposing regulation, fines and oversight on social media platforms, even suggesting a break up of their mega-structures. Whether they can actually achieve any of these things or it just goes off the radar as so many government attempts to curb big business seem to (think multi-national tax evasion, post-GFC regulation of banks) is anyone’s guess.
But in the meantime, while politicians work up the courage to take on the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world and their lawyers, children continue to be bullied online, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They continue to be told by online trolls on Snapchat, Instagram and so many other unregulated platforms that they’re worthless and ugly, that they should do everyone a favour and kill themselves. And the response to these appalling comments by the platform providers is a slow self-regulated online moderation process that eventually might take down the comment and ban the troll if enough people complain for enough time. Well that’s just band aiding when the horse has bolted, not prevention.
I don’t know about you but I say that’s not good enough. The online world is mentally and physically dangerous for so many young people who are exposed to bullying, trolling, sexting and online predators. It’s got to stop before we irreparably damage an entire generation.
We regulate swimming pools, toys, amusement park rides, electronics, baby equipment - pretty much everything a child might conceivably hurt themselves on has a government regulatory process to make sure it’s safe. But the one place our children spend most time of their time is completely unregulated, and is continually demonstrated to be dangerous on an almost daily basis in research literature and the media.
So today on the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, think not only about how you can do things around your school or workplace to make them a zero-tolerance environment for bullying. Think too, about how you can send a message to the Australian government, which isn’t one of those currently looking at regulating social media companies, that enough is enough and that you want them to protect our children, not just from backyard swimming pools but online as well…