If you thought that US politicians were having fun hauling tech executives in front of Congress — seems like you aren’t alone! An Australian senator wants to copy his US counterparts with a push for a parliamentary inquiry into tech companies and their alleged shadow-banning and de-platforming.
On Wednesday, South Australian Liberal senator Alex Antic moved that the Senate launch an inquiry into ‘Big Tech influence in Australia’, as first spotted by Communications Day executive editor Rohan Pearce.
Per the motion, Antic wants the committee to report on domestic and international tech companies’ conduct with regards to:
- disinformation, misinformation and malinformation, including: ‘shadow banning’, ‘de-platforming’, ‘no platforming’ and ‘demonetisation’;
- fake accounts and bots that engage in online campaigns;
- terms of service, including user privacy settings and use of user data by Big Tech and third parties;
- the extent of compliance with Australian laws.
The Liberal politician has been calling for an inquiry for some time, but stepped up his efforts when Facebook temporarily banned news last week.
“The news today that Facebook are banning access to news publishers, TV stations and government departments highlights why I have been calling for a Senate Select Committee to be established to investigate the activity and behaviour of Big Tech,” he wrote last week on Facebook.
While there’s broad support for more oversight into the powers held by the increasingly powerful and largely unaccountable tech companies, Antic’s motion contains some hints that this inquiry might be a weapon for conservative gripes instead.
The right’s obsession with shadow banning — the idea that tech platforms are putting the brakes on (typically conservative) users accounts’ growth or engagement because of their politics — has no basis in evidence.
If anything, we know that conservative politicians and media figures are overwhelming given the benefit of the doubt. Just this week, BuzzFeed News reported that Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened to save right wing conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones from facing consequences for sharing misinformation.
Queensland LNP MP George Christensen has previously floated a similar inquiry, too.
Frankly, this feels like a carbon copy of Congressional hearings in the US where conservative politicians are semi-regularly hauled tech platforms to complain about such things.
And, as we’ve seen in the US, nothing really comes of it from a policy perspective.
But complaining about how the system is supposedly biased against your side of politics is, in itself, good politics.
Politicians get to complain to high level tech company employees who are forced to grit their teeth, smile, answer questions and occasionally apologise. Footage is clipped up and broadcast in the media. Reporters write some articles.
More transparency from tech platforms can only be a good thing. It’s not clear that Senator Antic’s tech inquiry in its current form is anything but an attempt to play politics.