Australia could jail social media execs over violent posts

Australia is set to introduce new laws that could imprison social media executives if they allow violence to be streamed on their platforms, following the New Zealand terror attack.

The bills have been proposed in response to the 15 March mosque attacks in Christchurch, which were livestreamed on Facebook.

Executives of platforms that do not remove “abhorrent violent material” quickly could face three years in prison. Companies could face a fine of A$ 10.5m (£5.6m) or 10% of the site’s annual turnover – whichever is larger.

Abhorrent violent material is defined as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping.

For the law to apply, the material must be recorded by the perpetrator or an accomplice.

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 23: People gather outside Al Noor mosque after it was officially reopened following last weeks attack, on March 23, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. 50 people were killed, and dozens were injured in Christchurch on Friday, March 15 when a gunman opened fire at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques. The attack is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand's history.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Image: Fifty people were killed in the attacks in New Zealand

Facebook live-streamed the Christchurch attack for 17 minutes without interruption before reacting. The company said that, during the first 24 hours after the shooting, it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack.

Facebook also said it would ban praise, support and representations of white nationalism and white separatism.

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Critics warn the changes could pave the way for media censorship and reduced investment in Australia.

Executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter, internet service providers and Australian phone companies met the prime minister last week to discuss social media regulation.

Communications minister Mitch Fifield said Facebook “did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch”.

Australia’s conservative government rushed the legislation through ahead of a general election expected in May, and chose not to put the plans in front of a committee first.

The Labour Party agreed to support the bill, but said the law would be reviewed if Labour wins the election.

This photograph taken on May 16, 2018, shows a figurine standing in front of the logo of social network Facebook on a cracked screen of a smartphone in Paris
Image: Facebook has come under fire after the attack

The party’s spokesman Mark Dreyfus said the law could potentially undermine security relations with the US, as the requirement for American social media sites to share content data with Australian police is in breach of US law.

Introducing the bill, attorney general Christian Porter said: “Together we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purpose of spreading their violent and extreme propaganda – these platforms should not be weaponised for evil.”

The country’s Digital Industry Group criticised the government for passing the law “without any meaningful consultation” and said taking down content was a “highly complex problem”.

It added the law “does nothing to address hate speech”.

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