Submission: Social Media and Australian Society

The advent of social media has had wide-ranging ramifications for Australian society. NSWCCL is particularly concerned about the corrosive effects that some social media content can have on the civil liberties that the Australian people deserve. Troublingly, this is a phenomenon which – due to its rapid development – is currently outpacing regulators. 

The default principle is that all Australians should have access to a wide array of information and ideas without restrictions unless there is good reason to limit this access. Not only is this principle an essential aspect of freedom of expression, it is also at the heart of Australia’s democratic ideal, in which people have access to the information and ideas that inform their vote. 

A flourishing media landscape:

NSWCCL fundamentally believes in the importance of a flourishing media landscape in Australia, including the existence of journalism as a profession. NSWCCL submits that the media is integral to a functioning democracy, because it exposes the machinations and conduct of government for all to see. This enables the electorate to properly hold the government to account, including for its impact on civil liberties.

As such, NSWCCL submits that the government should actively pursue the flourishing of Australian media as a policy objective. This includes maintaining an economic system in which there is a place for journalism.

The government’s support for public broadcasting, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Corporation is in this regard necessary, but insufficient. The government also has a legitimate role in ensuring that there is a healthy private market for journalism and media. Inter alia, this involves ensuring the ongoing viability of the profession of journalism, and the maintenance of reasonable truthfulness in the media.

Age verification:

As with any other citizens, children should have access to information and ideas. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a party, recognises this at Article 13:

  1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.
  2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: 

               - For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

               - For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

NSWCCL believes that the government’s approach to age verification should be informed by and consistent with Article 13.

Children should have access to receive information and ideas of all kinds, in all forms, through media of the child’s choice. This is for good reason; access to such information and ideas is an important feature of a child’s education and development. In this regard, social media – used responsibly – can have an important role to play, which we submit the Committee ought to recognise in its report.

In recent weeks, the proposition that children under the age of 16 years should be barred from social media has recently gained widespread support. Indeed, the 2024-5 federal budget allocated $6.5m for the investigation of age verification technology. NSWCCL does not support a blanket ban for children from social media, however, the age verification technology is strongly supported by NSWCCL.

In our submission we recommend that the government:

  • Be prudent about implementing any age verification policies.
  • Facilitate a flourishing news media landscape in Australia.
  • Hold social media companies responsible for mental health harms they cause.

For more information about this inquiry visit the committee page here.