The opening page of X is displayed on a computer and phone.
Calls have been renewed for age verification technology to bar children from some websites. Image by AP PHOTO
  • politics

Warnings kids are exposed to ‘extremist poison’ online

April 24, 2024

Australian children are being exposed to “extremist poison” on the internet, Australia’s federal police commissioner has said, amid reignited calls for online age verification.

Whether graphic content should remain on social media has become the subject of heated debate as X, formerly Twitter, fights an edict from the eSafety Commissioner to remove content of a stabbing at a Sydney church.

But Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw notes graphic content is readily available across the internet and can have detrimental impacts on young Australians.

“Some of our children and other vulnerable people are being bewitched online by a cauldron of extremist poison on the open and dark web – and that’s one serious problem,” he told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“The other is that the very nature of social media allows the extremist poison to spray across the globe almost instantly.”

This comes as the social media giant’s owner Elon Musk declares a war of words on Australia’s politicians, calling independent senator Jacqui Lambie an “enemy of the people” after she called him a “social media knob”, and trading jabs with the prime minister who  labelled him an “arrogant billionaire”.

Shadow Minister for CommunicationsĀ David Coleman.
 Opposition communications spokesman David Coleman wants a trial of age verification technology. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Opposition communications spokesman David Coleman has said he would also be happy to go head-to-head with Mr Musk on the issue and has called for a trial of age verification technology.

“It’s unacceptable” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“We would never have agreed consciously to the situation that we find ourselves in, with young children accessing this sort of distressing material basically every day.

“That’s why taking action is so important.”

Though many social media sites have age limits of about 13 years old, Mr Coleman said they were almost never enforced and he urged Australia to move towards a mandatory system of age verification.

The online safety watchdog in March 2023 outlined a road map for age verification that first recommends trialling a range of options, noting some technologies like ID-based solutions can exclude those without documents, and facial estimation can be inaccurate.

Mr Coleman noted the technology had advanced immensely since these recommendations were made and pointed to its use in other countries like the UK, and some states in the US.

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland
 Platforms are expected to comply with the eSafety commissioner’s orders, Michelle Rowland says. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

As X battles the watchdog’s takedown notice in Federal Court, it has temporarily geoblocked graphic content of a boy repeatedly stabbing Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel during a sermon.

The eSafety commissioner has argued that geoblocking, rather than a blanket take-down, did not go far enough to comply with its direction.

A spokesperson from the eSafety commissioner clarified that the removal notice did not relate to commentary, public debate or other posts about the event, “even those which may link to extreme violent content”, only videos of the specific stabbing event.

Police outside the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakely, Sydney
 Authorities declared the stabbing at Christ the Good Shepherd Church a terrorist act. Image by AP PHOTO 

However, Mr Musk has argued the order to take down posts globally was illegal as the Australian agency could not dictate what overseas users could see and the take-down went against free speech principles.

Additionally, an affadavit from Mr Emmanuel revealed the bishop wants the video of his stabbing to remain online.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland would not comment on jurisdiction while the case was before the court but said the commissioner had “exercised their powers in accordance with a law passed by our parliament”.

When questioned on consistency, Ms Rowland said the take-down order targeting the stabbing was different from other graphic content circulating as the April 15 incident had been declared a terrorist attack.

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