Australia proposes stringent online safety reforms amid legal battle with social media giant

Amid a legal dispute with social media platform X for not removing a violent video, the Australian government is fast-tracking a review of the Online Safety Act to potentially broaden regulatory powers and increase penalties for non-compliance.

Australia flag is depicted on the screen with the program code

The Australian government is currently considering significant reforms to enhance its online safety regulations, motivated by a legal dispute involving the eSafety Commissioner and social media platform X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk. This conflict emerged over X’s refusal to remove a graphic video depicting a church stabbing in Sydney. In response, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has expedited a review of the Online Safety Act, initially set for 2025 but is now due by the end of October.

The proposed changes could include extending the eSafety commissioner’s powers to tackle not just explicit content like hate speech and deepfakes but also broader issues like online ‘pile-ons’ and male violence against women facilitated by technology. The review also explores the possibility of imposing harsher penalties on platforms that fail to comply with takedown orders. Currently, companies face a maximum fine of $782,500 per day, which is considered lenient compared to penalties in Ireland and the UK, where fines can reach up to 10% of a company’s annual global turnover.

Furthermore, the review also considers introducing mandatory industry codes of conduct, systemic regulation approaches focusing on platforms’ systems and processes, and an age verification pilot to limit child access to harmful content. Public consultation is open, allowing community and industry input into shaping future laws to ensure they remain effective in the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Why does it matter?

X has previously faced controversies that have spurred calls for stricter tech company regulations, notably during disputes with Brazilian authorities over social media content management. In Australia, although initially reluctant, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is reconsidering her stance on implementing an age verification pilot, influenced by recent conflicts with Elon Musk. This shift comes despite her earlier concerns that it might detract from developing industry codes of conduct.