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AUSTRALIA: Social media bosses face jail over terror content after Christchurch


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Item: 10314

By Fergus Hunter and Jennifer Duke
SYDNEY (Sydney Morning Herald/Pacific Media Watch): Executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media companies could face jail time if their platforms fail to remove terrorist content under a legislative crackdown being prepared by the Morrison government in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack.

Executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media companies could face jail time if their platforms fail to remove terrorist content under a legislative crackdown being prepared by the Morrison government in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack.

The push to prevent digital platforms being weaponised by extremists has been unveiled as the government convenes a summit with the companies to address the role of their technologies in the New Zealand attack, in which the alleged shooter used Facebook to livestream his murder of 50 Muslim worshippers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is threatening to impose severe penalties on social media companies if they do not voluntarily make drastic changes to restrain the spread of extremist material on their services.

"We need to prevent social media platforms being weaponised with terror content," Morrison said in a statement.

"If social media companies fail to demonstrate a willingness to immediately institute changes to prevent the use of their platforms, like what was filmed and shared by the perpetrators of the terrible offences in Christchurch, we will take action."

The proposal would make it a criminal offence to fail to remove offending footage as quickly as possible after it is brought to the attention of the platform.

'Abhorrent violent material'
It would also be an offence to fail to rapidly remove footage that authorities have classified as "abhorrent violent material" and ordered be taken down.

In addition to punishment of the companies, Australian-based executives could be found personally liable and face severe penalties, including imprisonment.

The original Facebook video shared by the 28-year-old Australian terrorist is estimated to have been online for up to an hour, and viewed 4000 times before its was removed.

During this time it was copied and spread across the internet, including another 1.5 million attempted uploads to Facebook in the first 24 hours.

YouTube said it removed an "unprecedented" volume of content.

The footage has also been hosted on forums like 8chan that have been temporarily blocked by internet service providers, including Telstra, Vodafone and Optus.

The laws being drafted by the government are a bid to end "special rules" for content on social media platforms.

Existing offences
The measures are based on existing offences that deal with child sexual abuse material online.

In the summit on Tuesday with the companies and internet service providers, Morrison and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield will be seeking commitments from representatives that they will put in place major changes following the New Zealand mass shooting.

Senator Fifield said the government expects commitments for the "prevention, detection, blocking and removal" of offending material.

"If full co-operation isn’t forthcoming, the government will move to the full range of legislative options," he said.

At the meeting in Brisbane, the companies will be represented by executives who would face the harsh penalties under the proposed crackdown.

Facebook is sending global heavy-hitters to the roundtable, including former White House official Nathaniel Gleicher who is the social media company's head of cybersecurity policy.

The other Facebook representatives counter-terrorism expert Gullnaz Baig, trust and safety director for Asia Pacific Jeff Wu and director of policy for Australia and New Zealand Mia Garlick.

Public policy teams
Twitter head of global public policy Colin Crowell will attend alongside several members of its regional and public policy teams.

The government's plans come as the Greens propose a suite of toughened laws and sweeping inquiries to protect public interest journalism and address the "insidious" downsides of social media.

The proposals would usher in separate inquiries into public interest journalism and social media, grant the regulator greater power to police content, and introduce tax deductibility for subscriptions to public interest journalism.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the law must adapt to the rapidly evolving media landscape and observed there was heightened community concern about the role of social media and traditional news outlets.

"In an era of 'fake news', tragedies like we saw in Christchurch, and countless examples like the treatment of Tayla Harris [a football player who faced sexist comments online after her photo was posted on social media], it's easy to see why," Senator Hanson-Young said in a statement.

She called for a Productivity Commission inquiry into media ownership to look at whether existing concentrations should be broken up and for ways the government can encourage diversity.

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Pacific Media Watch

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Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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