The Australian Government has recently signed a protocol to tackle cyber-bullying with major social networking providers (except Twitter with whom discussions, aka pressure to open a local office, are said to be ongoing). It looks like a useful tool and I think the New Zealand Government should try and extend or replicate it here.
Called “The Protocol”, the Cooperative Arrangements for Complaints Handling on Social Networking Sites (PDF) are really guidelines. The Australian Government describes it as: “Social Networking Sites have agreed to continue promoting user safety as well as undertaking education and awareness raising about antisocial behaviour online… The Protocol is another step in the Government’s ongoing work targeting antisocial behaviour online like cyberbullying.”
“The Protocol also demonstrates that Social Networking Sites understand that they need to work cooperatively with the Government to meet the expectations of the Australian community when it comes to combating inappropriate conduct online.”
Under The Protocol, “Social Networking Sites commits companies, such as Facebook, Google (YouTube), Yahoo! and Microsoft, to:
- Set out clear information about its acceptable use guidelines;
- Undertake education and awareness raising activities about what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable online;
- Have a single point of contact for Government; and
- Have robust processes in place for reviewing and acting on complaints”
The interesting bit is “a single point of contact” and having “robust processes”. The Protocol doesn’t seem to impose any new legal obligations on social networking sites in terms of what they actually do in response to complaints which, in my opinion, is a good thing. A good by-product is social networking sites collaborating with Government in raising public awareness of what is and isn’t acceptable online as well as “striving to provide and promote useful user safety services.”
From a New Zealand perspective, I think such a protocol would nicely complement current efforts in strengthening the law and introducing new ‘Internet-time’ processes to tackle cyber-bullying. A tripartite protocol with NetSafe (as a designated ‘Approved Agency’) is the way to go.
Such a protocol will address my main issue with the proposed Communications Tribunal, that it lacks jurisdiction on overseas based social networking sites where the bulk of cyber-bullying happens. Being voluntary and self-directed, The Protocol in New Zealand would make a useful carrot to pre-empt more coercive Government measures.