Social media companies which fail to remove violent content face fines or jail time in Australia
Australia has announced tougher penalties on social media platforms to ensure they act on violent content.
The laws threaten executives of social media companies with jail, and fines placed on these companies if they fail to remove "abhorrent violent material" from their platforms.
The amendment, only just announced by the country's prime minister on Saturday, was passed in Australia's parliament on Thursday.
It's in response to the highly-shared livestream of the Christchurch terrorist attack, which social media companies struggled to wipe off their platforms.
Facebook revealed that it removed 1.5 million instances of the video, with 1.2 million blocked at upload. Internet service providers in New Zealand and Australia opted to block sites which hosted the video, and unblocked them when it was removed.
"Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists," Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.
"It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law."
Despite this, the laws have been criticised by industry figures for being a knee-jerk reaction, given the lack of consultation around the bill, and how swiftly the idea was rushed to law.
What the law says
The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill requires internet companies remove "abhorrent violent material" from their platforms, defined as the streaming of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping on social media.
If companies don't remove the content within a "reasonable time" they could face fines of 10 percent of their annual turnover. The law also threatens jail time, of a maximum of three years, to individuals who are found guilty.
Companies around the world are also required to notify the Australian Federal Police if they are hosting "abhorrent violent material" which originates from Australia on their platforms within this undefined "reasonable time."
It's unclear exactly how much time companies are given to remove the content. The circumstances could vary, depending on how much content needs to be removed, and the capabilities of the company to do so.
Laws passed without 'meaningful consultation'
DIGI, an industry group which represents Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Verizon Media in Australia, said the laws were passed without "meaningful consultation."
It added the laws do nothing to address hate speech, which it points to as the "fundamental motivation" for the Christchurch terrorist attack.
"Let’s be clear: no one wants abhorrent content on their websites, and DIGI members work to take this down as quickly as possible," Sunita Bose, managing director of DIGI, said in a statement.
"But with the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week."
Bose said Australia's laws are out of step with the notice and take down regimes operated in the U.S. and Europe, and encourage "companies to proactively surveil the vast volumes of user-generated content being uploaded at any given minute."
But some say Australia's laws ignore how the internet works, like Lucie Krahulcova, policy analyst for Australia and Asia Pacific at digital rights organisation Access Now.
"Overall, this is the most recent incident in a downhill trend to ram through short-sighted and reactionary legislation that will hurt individuals, undermine the economy, and place Australia alongside repressive governments around the world," Krahulcova said.
"This approach is totally out of place in a functioning democracy. This signals a green-light to all governments who consider human rights as an afterthought and a byline to follow suit."
Whether or not Australia's laws will prove effective remains to be seen. In a statement on Wednesday, Digital Rights Watch chair Tim Singleton Norton warned that the laws would create unintended consequences.
"The reality here is that there is no easy way to stop people from uploading or sharing links to videos of harmful content," he said.
"No magic algorithm exists that can distinguish a violent massacre from videos of police brutality."
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April 3, 2019 at 09:37PM