The current regulatory framework requires an overhaul to ensure social media heavyweights meet “community expectations”, an independent reviewer has found.

Former top public servant Lynelle Briggs last week released her online safety review, ahead of the Online Safety Charter consultation.

The review dissects the existing regulatory framework, and proposes it be replaced by a new “proactive” Online Safety Act and single code of industry practice.

“The proposed new legislation will need to guarantee that the online industry goes beyond simple compliance with minimum safety standards and should establish a much higher new benchmark standard with which all industry must comply,” says Briggs.

In reviewing the Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015, Briggs took aim at social media companies for their lack of co-operation in the rapid removal of cyber-bullying material.

“Companies with the reputations, influence and resources of Facebook, Google+, Instagram and YouTube should be ashamed that they did not sign up for the tier one voluntary compliance regime,” she says.

“This leaves the strong impression that these companies could easily be doing much more to remove harmful material voluntarily at source; and I consider that they have a social and moral obligation to do so.”

Strengthening eSafety

She also implored Australia’s eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to take stronger action against “the worst young offenders”.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is yet to refer a cyber-bullying incident to law enforcement, the report says, opting instead to resolve the incidents with parents and schools.

“I consider that concerns about being cognisant about teenagers’ maturity, growth stages and other vulnerabilities should not be allowed to outweigh the need to report the most dangerous cyber-bullying activity to police,” Briggs says.

“There is a risk that some cyber-bullies could continue a pattern of bullying behaviour into adulthood if they can get away with it when younger; possibly reinforcing the acceptability of threatening, or violent and dangerous behaviours that could endanger the community and their families later on.”

As part of the proposed new Online Safety Act, Briggs suggested the powers of the eSafety Commissioner be consolidated into one single part of the new Act, “rather than spread over different Acts and Schedules as they are now”.

What the government thinks

Following the release of the Briggs review, the Federal government also set out a draft charter outlining the expectations on digital and social media platforms.

“It is important that we be clear with industry about what we expect from large technology firms that have such a significant influence in our economy and community,” said Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield.

“The Australian community expects that standards of behaviour online should be the same as those that apply offline.”

The draft charter has a specific focus on the safety of children and indicates that the final version will be consistent with international best practice.

The Department of Communications and the Arts is seeking submissions on the draft charter from community members and industry experts.

Submissions close 5 April.