Australia targets social media firms in new extremist footage laws
SYDNEY, Australia – Social media executives could be jailed if they fail to remove extremist material from their platforms quickly, under controversial Australian laws adopted Thursday, April 4, in the wake of the live-streamed mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the laws, which make it illegal not to remove footage of "a terrorist act," murder, torture, rape and kidnapping, and spell out that internet service, content and hosting providers will be held culpable.
Platforms like Facebook and YouTube could face fines approaching billions of dollars – or 10 percent of global annual turnover – for failing to allow the "expeditious removal" of the offending material, while executives could face 3 years in jail.
Technology companies, policy experts and lawyers pilloried the legislation – which was jammed through parliament in two days and faces an uncertain future beyond elections expected in May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is facing a difficult reelection battle, said: "Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists."
The opposition Labor party expressed serious misgivings but voted in favor of the legislation.
Australia's Law Council described the legislation as "knee-jerk" and warned it could have "serious unintended consequences."
President Arthur Moses warned the laws could be used to curb whistleblowers, and "could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable."
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the legislation could be used to target platforms used by the far-right like 4Chan and 8Chan.
It will be up to a jury to decide whether the platforms acted with good speed to take down offending content, raising questions about how the law will be implemented.
The Institute of Public Affairs described the legislation as a "blatant attack on the freedom of the media."
"Throwing media executives in jail will increase costs to taxpayers without improving community safety or addressing concerns about violent content being shared on social media platforms," said researcher Andrew Bushnell.
"Companies and executives may respond to the threat of criminal penalties by erring on the side of censorship."
The laws are expected to be followed by steps toward treating social media giants more like publishers, which would make them legally responsible for the content on their platforms. – Rappler.com