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August 2, 2023

Jade Gailberger
Herald Sun
Wednesday 2 August 2023

TikTok and other social media platforms would be banned from operating in Australia if they repeatedly fail almost a dozen strict requirements under a proposal that would put Australia at the forefront of countering foreign interference. 

A Senate investigation has raised serious national security concerns about both TikTok and WeChat. Whose parent companies are headquartered in countries like China, calling on the federal government to take urgent action and extend a ban on work-issued devices. 

The committee on Tuesday made 17 recommendations to tackle the threat to Australia’s democracy, saying it was “gravely concerned” that the information users received on the platforms was being influenced by foreign government directions. 

“Where authoritarian regimes rely on secrecy and deception to advance their national interests on social media, Australia should rely on openness and transparency to secure our own,” chair Senator James Paterson said.

“That’s why we have recommended a range of enforceable transparency standards, so that users can both evaluate the content they see on these platforms, and the conduct of the platforms themselves.”

Senator Paterson said WeChat “comprehensively failed the transparency test” by refusing to participate in public committee hearings because it did not have a legal presence in Australia. “If social media companies want to operate in Australia, they should be required to establish a presence within Australia’s legal jurisdiction to more effectively be held accountable under our laws,” he said.

One of the committee’s key recommendations involves making large social media companies meet key transparency standards. 

These include: having an Australian presence, proactively label state affiliated media, disclosure of censored content or government directions, as well as which countries employees operating in can access Australian data.

Platforms that fail to meet the standards would be subject to fines, or may be banned by the Home Affairs minister.

If implemented, Senator Paterson said these would be world-leading reforms. He said TikTok’s China-based employees could, and had, accessed Australian user data, and could manipulate algorithms. 

The committee also recommended the government seek advice on banning WeChat from all its devices, and require contractors with access to government data to ban high-risk apps such as TikTok from its devices to mitigate serious espionage and cyber security risks. 

“Government must also put in place measures to anticipate, assess and mitigate the next TikTok before it is widely deployed on government devices,” the report states.

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