VIEW: Why Australia needs an online Code of Conduct

The below is a guest post from Sarah Liberty, CEO and Founder of JustSociale.

In 2012, the UNHCR declared that our online human rights are no different to our offline human rights. Yet, almost ten years on, many Australians are still unaware that they have online human rights. And, in the rapidly evolving realm of the Internet and social media, navigating our online human rights – and knowing how to protect them – can be especially challenging. 

I should know because I’ve experienced it.

When my email and social media accounts were hacked, and I was digitally surveilled by an abusive former partner – a breach of Australian law – I wasn’t sure what to do, or where to turn to for support. 

When I tried to file a complaint with my local police station, it took weeks of persistence to obtain an ADVO, and even when I was successful, the police didn’t alert me to the fact that what my partner had done was illegal.

My case is not the exception. As a 2018 poll among women aged 18-55 commissioned by Amnesty found, one third of respondents had encountered some form of online harassment or abuse.

Inspired by my personal experience, and after gaining academic and professional expertise as an NGO and Communications leader in London, New York, Paris, Jogjakarta and Sydney, I established JustSociale as Australia’s first federally ACNC-accredited NGO dedicated to promoting awareness of human rights online.

We are a defiantly optimistic collective of social entrepreneurs, creatives, civil society actors, technology platforms, media outlets, activists, private businesses and members of diverse communities who are passionate about making the Internet universally accessible and inclusive, so that we can all use it to connect with each other, and the global community – safely.

Ultimately, our aim is to foster a culture of trust, transparency and responsibility for everyone operating in the digital domain, and to promote good digital citizenship. Much of our day-to-day lives now happen online, and Australians are prolific users of the Internet and social media: 71 percent of the population has active social media accounts. A recent survey even found that in the morning, “more than half of the adult population wake up and check their social media feed as the very first activity of the day!” However, as the eSafety Commissioner notes, 67% of Australian adults have also had a negative experience online (in the 12 months to August 2019), ranging from repeated unwanted messages or online contact (such as pornography or violent content), to scams, viruses, hate speech, abuse and threats.

This is unacceptable to me. It is why JustSociale is developing Australia’s first Online Code of Conduct –  to provide collective solutions that are shaped by the Australian public, and agreed upon by digital stakeholders – not forced upon them top down by securitising the digital realm, as the government is attempting to do. Our Code provides a set of guidelines that signatories can voluntarily adopt to demonstrate to the public, clients or their beneficiaries that they take online human rights seriously. 

As the recent Tinder and Bumble exposes highlighted – whereby investigations found a pattern of sex offenders blocking their victims after a rape to delete any trace of their prior communication – the onus has far too long been on individuals rather than the platforms themselves to report and put a stop to negative or harmful online behaviour. However, rather than strong-arming or blaming tech platforms, and promoting a culture of fear or shooting the digital messenger, I believe now is the time to build long-term solutions and practices that ensure all actors take the route of responsibility, trust and transparency. JustSociale is here to work with tech platforms, the government and all stakeholders with an interest in Internet governance to educate Australians of their online rights and responsibilities as digital citizens in order to self empower people, and to foster societal change.  

Despite the Internet’s extensive penetration in Australia, digital and cultural exclusion remain significant challenges. 2.5 million people – or just over 10% of our population – are still not online – either because of cost, location or digital literacy. The voices of diverse communities are also censored by algorithms on social media.

JustSociale’s national Alliance and Online Code of Conduct, however, will change this. We stand with diverse communities so they can claim their online rights and access the Internet equally, safely and confidently. As a report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly best put it, access to the internet is a basic human right, integral to allowing individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

For more about JustSociale, visit www.justsociale.org


About the expert

Sarah Liberty is the Founder and CEO of JustSociale. A social entrepreneur, public speaker, radio presenter, podcaster and human rights advocate.Her career has spanned executive roles in the media and in international NGOs in London, New York, Jogjakarta, Sydney and Paris. Sarah recently completed her Master of International Relations: Human Rights, at Sciences Po University, Paris, and hosts a weekly international #FeministFriday Podcast available on all major podcast platforms reaching 42 countries. Sarah is an Ambassador for UN Women’s #GenerationEquality campaign and is regularly approached by the media to comment on human rights, social entrepreneurship, international relations, technology and social media news.


Image description: Headshot of Sarah in a black collared shirt, with short reddish brown hair. There are pink flowers in the background.

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VIEW: Now, more than ever, we should be better listening to young people – Yasmin Poole

Age diversity is often discussed in creative and innovative industries, but what about sectors such as policy and government?

As the rate of change fastens – from digital technologies and climate change, to flexible ways of working and globalisation – experts say there is a drive among younger generations to tackle these challenges head-on and with an open mind, in comparison to older generations. Yet, representation of young people in parliament and, consequently, representation of issues they are passionate about, are lacking.

While it may seem inevitable that people of a certain age and with a certain number of years experience under their belt are better suited to politics, countries like Finland are showing this simply isn’t true and age diversity is not only possible, but also an effective way of governing.

Yasmin Poole is passionate about being and empowering the voice of Gen Z to be heard in parliament. In this interview, she shares why age diversity at the leadership level matters, and how governments and societies can benefit from involving young people in policy development.

  • Why is age diversity at the leadership level important to you?

It’s firstly important in terms of representation. It’s a rare sight to see a politician under 30 in Parliament House. Yet, young people are majorly impacted in policy. We were the first to lose our jobs after COVID-19 and will have to deal with the economic fallout for decades to come. We’re also affected in other areas of policy such as health, education, employment and housing. We’ll also be dealing with the looming impacts of climate change. Despite this, youth voices are often unheard.

Aside from that, I also think many underestimate how well young people can prepare us for the future. Younger generations are open minded, risk taking and curious. Those are traits we need more than ever – as 2020 has demonstrated, the business as usual approach is long gone. If we want to create a prosperous and forward-thinking society, we need young people at the table too.

Take COVID-19, for example. It has essentially forced the world to learn how to live online and think outside of the box. Yet, young people can be the leaders here. We’ve grown up in a time of rapid technological innovation. We’re poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation. Now, more than ever, we should be better listening to young people. Adaptation and change are our normal.

  • What are some examples where you’ve seen a positive impact from diversity of age in leadership?

I’d say a good example of positive impact was when I led the Victorian Government’s Youth Congress, which was their first ever youth advisory board representing over a million young Victorians.

We found that the mental health system in particular is poorly designed for young people. While the government had funded youth mental health support, services were largely only available 9am-5pm weekdays and closed on weekends. This was totally inaccessible for the majority of young people who were at school. It seems like a simple observation, but shows how youth policy is often created without understanding what young people want and need.

Since our recommendations, the Victorian Government has committed to ensuring every public school has a mental health counsellor – a really encouraging step towards making services accessible.

That example taught me the power of government co-designing policy with young people. I think a big part of youth disillusionment is simply because we feel unheard. If government can better engage with young people, it will only lead to better solutions.

  • Have you ever felt that sometimes age does matter in the workplace? Why or why not?

Definitely. I still think young people can learn a lot from older leaders – there remains a certain type of wisdom that comes with age. I was once told that “life is a marathon, not a sprint” and it’s always stuck in my mind. Older mentors have taught me a lot about leadership. A big takeaway has been that it isn’t always about how large your impact is or how fast you get to the end goal. One of the best bosses I’ve had used to check in with me every day and genuinely ask how I was going. Often, it’s the small things that make the very best leaders.

I’ve also found that, while youth can bring new ideas, we may not always have the connections to turn it into a reality. A big part of Youth Congress’ success was the support of senior government figures. They put us in touch with the right people to make sure we were heard – without them, our recommendations could have very well gone unnoticed. I’d love to see more programs like that which connect older decision-makers with younger people – it’d be a great way to turn ideas into action.

  • How have your personal experiences impacted your approach to leadership and role modelling today?

I’d say that growing up low income has played a big part in how I view the world. A question that’s always in the back of my mind is “whose voices are missing from the conversation?” I study in Canberra and, at many points, have looked around me and wondered who deserved to be here but couldn’t because of cost. While I feel really lucky to have the platform I do, I’m conscious that there are many young Australians that continue to be unheard and slip through the cracks.

To me, stepping into your vulnerabilities is crucial for authentic leadership. When I was 20, I was a panellist on Q+A – the first time I was ever in the public eye. It was pretty intimidating. But I realised that, in order to speak authentically, I had to share my lived experience. I talked about growing up low income and my parents’ story. Both experienced poverty over their lives – my mother used to sell food on the streets of Singapore and my father grew up homeless.

Stepping into your hardships, especially in a public way, is undoubtedly daunting. Yet, those experiences have given me the agency to stand up for what I care about. At the end of the day, I want to be the person that younger me would have wanted to see growing up. If I’m embodying that, I know I’m on the right path.


About the expert

Yasmin is best described as a ‘human megaphone for Gen Z’. She has represented millions of young Australians in advocating for youth policy reform, including being the 2018 Chair of the Victorian Government’s Youth Congress. She also led the global business development of 180 Degrees Consulting, a youth led social impact consultancy that spans across 30 countries. She is currently Plan International’s Youth Ambassador, focusing on engaging young Australian women in politics. In 2019, Yasmin was the youngest member of the Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence and Top 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian Australians. Yasmin has been a panellist on shows such as Q&A and the Drum, with a focus on how we can include youth in the conversation to create change.

ADVICE: How to make a mentorship count when it matters most

Having the right mentors and role models at a young age, can significantly impact one’s resilience and access to support services, and even improve their chances of getting a tertiary education or a job.

Social policy and community engagement specialist, Annukina Warda, has worked with enough public sector and youth organisations to have seen first-hand the positive impact that strong role models and community leaders can have on an individual.

In this interview, she shares her views on the state of role models for young people today, how we can improve, and tangible advice for those wanting to support and empower young people.

  • Are there enough role models for young people who need guidance and support?

No. When you’re young and trying to establish yourself in life, you need that, and there aren’t enough.

There are not enough intersectional feminists publicly speaking, let alone holding the hands of young professionals. Young women of colour need to see themselves culturally represented in their mentors.

  • How has your own upbringing impacted your view of role models?

I had a loving family. But the reality is, growing up in the area and community that I did, I was only a breath away from a very different life. For other kids around me, I saw violence, poverty, and high levels of incarceration.

I found a way to break away from that without a mentor. But this is where I think mentoring and having the right role models is so important and can play a meaningful role in positively shaping our communities.

Corporate mentors need to truly understand their mentees in this holistic way. For young professionals in this situation, having a mentor isn’t just for professional growth – it’s so much more than that because their lives and upbringings are deeply interwoven in their communities.

  • What is your advice to companies or business leaders who offer mentorship to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds?

I see some large companies are giving their staff community engagement opportunities whereby, for example, they get one day per year to participate in their community, such as contributing to a community garden or a community clean-up.

What I would love to see, is corporates encouraging their mentors to physically visit the communities of their mentees. When you’re meeting your mentee in the city in a formal setting, they’re most likely a corporately dressed, more rehearsed, and less genuine version of themselves – you’re not getting the full picture.

If I’d had a mentor growing up and they had to visit me in my community, it would have taken them an hour from the CBD to get to the closest station, then they’d probably have felt uncomfortable because my train station often had drug addicts closeby, and we’d need to have met at a takeaway shop because there weren’t any nice cafes in my area.

This may have been challenging for the mentor, but they would have got to know me on my turf. This is what professional mentors need to be investing in if they want to actually get to know their mentees and make a difference.

  • What’s your advice to organisations, governments and business leaders wanting to contribute to bridging the socioeconomic divides in our communities?

The number one rule is to ask, “Are Aboriginal people centred in this?” And by centred, I don’t mean factored in. I mean centred and central to the overall purpose and delivery. Yes, that’s going to be uncomfortable for some and it may involve investing in external consultants or re-thinking the overall approach. But if we’re not centring Aboriginal stories, you’re wasting your time and you’re contributing to further violence against Aboriginal people.

Secondly, ask, “Have I considered what this approach looks and feels like for as wide a range of intersectional attributes as possible?” This could involve people with disabilities, autistic women, or an elderly refugee who doesn’t speak English. This is basically about the user experience and user design, which are terms broadly discussed in social policy, but not at an intersectional level.

Thirdly, follow the three principles that I initiated when I started Elemental Training. That’s asking, “Have I considered care for self, care for earth, and care for each other.” Care for self is not embedded in our workplaces practices these days – it can’t be just about getting a facial at the end of the week, it needs to be embedded in our day-to-day or we’re failing ourselves. Similarly, care for earth and each other cannot be treated with one-off actions. 


About the expert

Annukina Warda is an educator, community development practitioner and social policy analyst whom has worked supporting communities in Australia and abroad.

Her passion project, Elemental Training and Consulting, offers a range of supports to the public and not-for-profit sectors in order to thrive.

Elemental resources are practical tools for young leaders and professionals to practice cultures of care, increase their connection to the earth and participate in communities in radically creative ways.

Annukina Warda is an Assyrian woman born and raised on Darug country. She holds an Arts degree majoring in Gender and Politics and a Graduate Diploma in Education.

More info at www.elementaltraining.com.au


Image description: Close-up headshot of Annukina looking to the side in front of a blue fence. She has long black hair tied in a ponytail and wears large hoop earrings.