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Scott Morrison announces new inquiry into toxic material on social media

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will ramp up his attack on trolling with a wide-ranging investigation into toxic material on social media platforms.

The inquiry, to be announced on Wednesday, is expected to invite the likes Channel 9 sports presenter Erin Molan and ex-AFL star Adam Goodes – who have both called out shocking abuse online – to take part alongside mums, dads and everyday Australians.

This latest big move comes after the government on Sunday announced it would seek to introduce world-first legislation that would unmask anonymous trolls behind their keyboards.

This would be done through giving courts the power to make companies like Facebook and Twitter identify trolls in defamation cases, and if they refused, they would be liable.

A committee will be established to investigate the range of online harms that may be faced by Australians on social media.

Camera IconErin Molan. Credit: Supplied

It will look into the potential impacts on people’s mental health and the extent to which algorithms used by social media platforms permit or increase exposure to toxic material.

It will also examine the effectiveness of protections in place for children.

“Mums and dads are rightly concerned about whether big tech is doing enough to keep their kids safe online,” Mr Morrison said.

“Big tech created these platforms – they have a responsibility to ensure they’re safe.”

The committee will be asked to present its final report in February.

Along with Molan and Goodes, it is understood Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and AFLW star Tayla Harris will also be asked to get involved.

Harris was subjected to numerous misogynistic comments after an inspirational photo of her kicking a footy was posted on social media.

Haugen, a former Facebook employee, released damaging documents about the social media giant’s operations and has called on politicians to act to stop harm to children and the weakening of democracy.

Goodes was the subject of racist internet memes posted on a popular Facebook page in 2016 and deleted his Twitter account days later.

Molan has also experienced horrific abuse, including someone saying when she was pregnant they wished she had a stillborn.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the inquiry would be important in finding out what more needs to be done.

“The troubling revelations from a Facebook whistleblower have amplified existing concerns in the community,” he said.

“This inquiry will give organisations and individuals an opportunity to air their concerns, and for big tech to account for its own conduct.

“Australia has led the world in regulating social media, establishing the world’s first dedicated online safety watchdog in 2015.

“In June this year we passed the tough new Online Safety Act, which will give our eSafety Commissioner even stronger powers to direct the removal of online abuse.”

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