Australia plans tough social media law after Christchurch attacks

Australia plans tough social media law after Christchurch attacks

The Australian government has announced plans to introduce tough new anti-terror legislation to prevent people from “weaponising social media platforms” and “livestreaming violent crimes”, as it happened during a recent attack on Christchurch mosques in New Zealand.

The attacker, a 28-year-old Australian, livestreamed the 17-minute shooting spree at one of the mosques on Facebook. Fifty mosque-goers were killed in the attack earlier in March.

With the new law, Australia will become the first country in the world to penalise social media giants with jail and millions of dollars in fines if they do not remove the violent materials quickly.

The legislation will be brought to parliament next week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday.

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” Morrison said in a joint statement with his attorney general and communications minister.

He said the new legislation will force social media companies “to get their act together and work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to defuse the threat their technologies can present”.

Stiff penalties

Attorney General Christian Porter said the law will include penalties of up to 10 percent of a company’s annual turnover and executives could face up to three years in prison if social media platforms fail to act to remove violent material.

The draft legislation also requires social media outlets to notify police if their service is being used to broadcast violent crimes, just like they have to inform them if it is being used to access child pornography.

The proposed law targets the showing of “abhorrent violent materials”, which means the playing or streaming of acts of “terrorism”, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping on social media.

The new law will make it a criminal offence not to remove such materials “expeditiously”. Also, social media platforms anywhere in the world must notify the Australian Federal Police if they become aware their service is streaming such violent conduct happening in Australia.

Morrison also said a task force of government and social media giants was being formed to work together to tackle the issue.

The legislation and the task force would form the basis of a model approach asking the G20 nations for a global agreement to force the “social media companies into our collective net of responsibility and accountability”, he said.

Morrison has already written to the current G20 chairman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking him to include social media governance as a top priority on the agenda at the next summit meeting in Osaka in June.

Mitch Fifield, the communications minister, said on Saturday the bill will not affect the ability of news media to report on events which are in the public interest.

Earlier this week, Morrison and other ministers met the representatives of social media companies, including Facebook officials, to discuss the Christchurch attacks.

“They did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch,” Fifield said.

“We will not allow social media platforms to be weaponised by terrorists and violent extremists who seek to harm and kill and nor would we allow a situation that a young Australian child could log onto social media and watch a mass murder take place,” Fifield said.

After Christchurch, Facebook said it removed 1.5 million copies of the video of the attack in the first 24 hours after the shootings.

YouTube also removed the video of the attack from its site. But it is still available on some underground websites.

The mosque attacker had also posted a 74-page “manifesto” online before the attack, including to his Twitter account that has now been disabled.

New Zealand’s chief censor has since made it a criminal offence to possess or distribute the manifesto, deeming it “objectionable”.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced it had banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism on its social media platforms, including Instagram.