Big Tech tries to spook Parliament away from anti-trolling regulations, citing free trade agreements

29 March, 2022: Representatives of Big Tech companies like Meta, YouTube and Twitter have lobbied parliament to water down regulations which would target online trolling and bullying, arguing that the regulations would be in conflict with the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement and free trade deals signed with other countries.

During a Senate inquiry into the Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022 [Provisions], Big Tech companies claimed that the bill is "not consistent with the spirit of the requirement of the US free trade agreement" because it would require social media companies to maintain a local presence in Australia. This local presence requirement would ensure that user data can be accessed in the case of bullying, trolling or defamation.

However, the Attorney General’s Department insists that the regulations do not contravene any free trade deals, because the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) – which is incorporated into Australia’s free trade agreements – contains exceptions permitting public interest regulation. In fact, these WTO GATS exceptions are qualified and difficult for governments to use, with governments winning only two of forty-eight cases that have been taken to justify regulation.

AFTINET has long warned of the risk of trade rules that suit Big Tech companies encroaching upon the government’s right to regulate in the public interest. The race is on for market access and control of the digital economy, and trade agreements are increasingly being used to lock-in the power of Big Tech companies and restrict the regulation of the digital domain.

Learn more about how e-commerce trade rules can impact digital rights:

  • For further reporting on this story from ZDNet, click here.
  • To read the AFTINET fact-sheet on digital trade, click here.
  • To read the AFTINET submission on WTO negotiations on digital trade, click here.
  • To read the AFTINET submission on the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, click here.