Christchurch terror attacks: Australia law adds violent content penalties for social media companies

5:41 pm on 4 April 2019

Australia is set to fine social media companies up to 10 percent of their annual global turnover and imprison executives if violent content is not removed under a new law passed by the country's parliament today.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison briefs media about the flooding situation in Queensland during a press conference in Sydney on February 8, 2019.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AFP

It is now an offence in Australia for companies, such as Facebook and YouTube, not to immediately remove any videos or photographs that show murder, torture or rape.

Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter said the law was in response to the availability of videos of the attack on the Christchurch mosques last month.

"The material was livestreamed on Facebook and available on that platform for almost an hour and ten minutes until the first attempts were made to take it down.

"Simply put, we find that unacceptable."

Juries will decide whether companies have complied with the timetable.

Australia's minister for communications and the arts, Mitch Fifield, said it was important "that we make a very clear statement to social media companies that we expect their behaviour to change."

Google, Facebook and Twitter have warned that the new law risks damaging US-Australia security co-operation and introducing mass surveillance of internet users.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on the legislation specifically, but said the company has already taken action to limit violent content on its platforms.

A spokeswoman for Facebook was not immediately able for comment.

Facebook said last week it was exploring restrictions on who can access their live video-streaming service, depending on factors such as previous violations of the site's community standards.

Australia's opposition Labor party backed the legislation, but said it will consult with the technology industry over possible amendments if it wins power at an election due in May.

Australia's parliament will rise until after the election. The newly elected lawmakers will not sit until at least July.

Critics of the legislation said the government moved too quickly, without proper consultation and consideration.

"Laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences," said Arthur Moses, head of the Australian Law Council.

- RNZ / Reuters

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