Social networks: May have to remove bullying and other "harmful" online content.
Major social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ will be directed to remove bullying and other "harmful" online content under a federal government proposal.
But those involved say the proposal could ignore smaller networks such as Snapchat, and fail in its goal of stamping out online bullying.
As foreshadowed on Tuesday, the government is currently consulting with industry and child safety groups on the proposal, which would see a "senior Commonwealth official" appointed as e-safety commissioner.
Liberal MP Paul Fletcher: Says parents need more help and better tools to protect their children online.
The commissioner would field complaints about content online and direct large social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to remove offending content.
Those that failed to comply could face formal warnings, infringement notice and civil penalties.
"It is clear that parents, and others caring for children, want more help – and better tools – to keep the children in their care as safe as possible when they use the internet," said Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, parliamentary secretary to the Communications Minister.
"When a child falls victim to cyber-bullying, it can be hard to get the harmful material down fast. And with current laws, cyber-bullies may not realise they are breaking the law. This is what these measures are designed to address."
The Coalition had pledged before the election to appoint an online watchdog, after pressure on the likes of Twitter and Facebook to remove offensive and bullying content.
A discussion paper released on Wednesday suggested it would prescribe which social media sites would be involved in the compulsory program.
It is understood the proposal would encompass the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and local social networks such as Yahoo!7's Fango. But critics suggested the proposal would ignore smaller social media networks where bullying could also occur, such as Snapchat.
The discussion paper suggested the commissioner could also require those who originally posted the material to also remove their content where possible, and proposed introducing fines for online content targeting minors, echoing similar moves to introduce $2000 penalties and a 3-month prison sentence in New Zealand for such conduct.
But major social networks and online companies said the move would not fix the issue of online bullying.
"We share the Abbott Government's commitment to keeping young Australians safe online and we invest heavily in tools and infrastructure to achieve this," said a spokesperson for the AIMIA Digital Policy Group, which includes Microsoft, Yahoo!7, Facebook, Freelancer, eBay, Google and Twitter.
"However, the Government's proposal to legislate a one-size fits all regime is counterproductive to our own work and commitment to the safety of the people who use our services.
"Also the creation of a new statutory body and new regulation on complaints handling seems at odds with the Government's stated strategy to reduce regulation and to streamline Government agencies."
Industry groups are urging the government to keep a voluntary protocol agreed to between the former Labor government and some social media sites in January last year.
Sean Rintel, chairman of advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said removal of offensive and harmful content was best left to the social media sites themselves.
"It's complex enough to deal with all that stuff let alone when you've got a tsar who's directing people to do this," Dr Rintel said. He recalled the incident "last year when the Aboriginal memes thing came out and [then communications minister Stephen] Conroy eventually pushed Facebook to take that down. These things do happen anyway so it's unclear whether a tsar is needed to push this through given you've got a Communications Minister who can do that anyway."
Dr Rintel said voluntary mechanisms in Japan, where the private sector took down child pornography content online after threats of government regulation, were the best examples of private control.
This article was originally published in the Australian Financial Review.