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If our Prime Minister lacks the courage and resolve to take on social media, who will?

Is Anthony Albanese fighting a single-handed battle against the might of our social media titans – or has he given up altogether, asks Madonna King.

Jul 04, 2024, updated Jul 04, 2024
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw has announced details of an anti-organised crime operation (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw has announced details of an anti-organised crime operation (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, armed with a lettuce leaf, took on the social media giants recently.

They were arrogant, he admonished. And out of touch. They’d even shown contempt to parents, worried about their children.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was a touch tougher. Any government he led would ban children, aged under 16, from social media.

Good on him for taking that stance, but it’s unclear how that might happen and Dutton, like every other father on the planet, knows teens excel in breaching bans and breaking the rules.

Meanwhile those same social media giants, who are the target of their soft criticism, are flouting every possible decency marker imaginable.

Crime fighters know this.

Young, lonely and vulnerable teens were being “bewitched online by a cauldron of extremist poison’’ AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw told the National Press Club a few weeks ago. And that poison was spraying across the globe in nanoseconds, he said.

And, according to police, into the homes of children as young as 12 in Australia.

As young as 12 years old! That’s the age of some children now on terror watch lists, here in Australia.

While the AFP will not disclose how many children are on its watch list, terrorism teams have launched investigations and operations against almost 30 children, aged between 12 and 17, in the past three years.

And those probes have led to charges of advocating terrorism, distributing extremist material, preparing for a terrorist offence, being a member of a terrorist organisation and even possessing, supplying and making explosives.

In short, the AFP is seeing a shocking trend of young Australian teens being radicalised online.

Our politicians know that. Indeed, AFP Commissioner Kershaw’s budget estimates statement made his concerns very, very clear.

“We are concerned about the activity identified online, as well as what is happening in the real-world, including violence in schools, such as planning possible attacks on students and teachers, and the production of explosives or possession or use of weapons,’’ he said.

And what’s the response of social media companies?

“Instead of putting out the embers that start on their platforms, their indifference and defiance is pouring accelerant on the flames,’’ Kershaw told the National Press Club.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Sydney and Perth in recent weeks we’ve seen offences where possible terror connections are now being investigated.

The latest incident allegedly involves a 14-year-old wearing military gear at Sydney University. He has previously been charged with offences, and has already – at 14 – participated in a de-radicalization program.

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At 14 years of age.

This week’s incident follows others, where a teen was charged with a terrorist-related act after a Sydney bishop was stabbed during an online church service, and where a second teen was shot by police in Perth after a stabbing in a parking lot. He had also been involved in a de-radiclaisation program.

But still, despite the expert warnings and what we are seeing play out in public, we tip-toe around these social media giants like they have some god-given right to feed our children rubbish, to prey on lonely and vulnerable teens, and to flout being responsible or decent on a whim.

What’s the use of our politicians – Labor or Liberal or any other – if they can’t work together to inhibit a lawlessness that threatens a generation of Australians, not yet old enough to vote?

A lettuce leaf won’t work. An age-ban is worth trying. But we have to also target the perpetrators, the big social media companies who could stop this, as quickly as the rest of us, on a smart phone, click ‘send’.

Why not make the directors and executives of those companies criminally liable for any Australian event attributed to their negligence?

The same law applies to directors and executives of almost every other company operating here – from building sites to bank chambers – so why should it not apply to all?

The smirking social media giants need to hurt in the same way their online footprint is stamping on the future of our children; not just in online bullying and sextortion, online sex abuse and scamming – but also in the serious radicalisation of those who might not even understand the consequences.

Assistant NSW Police Commissioner Mark Walton said this week that the toxic internet allowed young people to self-radicalise, and then move to being violent.

No-one – parents and politicians and police and policy-makers – disagrees with that. And we all worry about it.

But it’s us up against those social media companies who, in the words of the AFP Commissioner, are both indifferent and defiant.

Is there a meeting this week in Albanese or Dutton’s diary that is more important than this?

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