Aussie PM warns of jail time for social media executives

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton meet social media executives at the Waterfront Place in Brisbane on March 26, 2019.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton meet social media executives at the Waterfront Place in Brisbane on March 26, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON • Australia yesterday warned social media giants of jail time for their executives if they fail to remove extremist material quickly from their platforms.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison met a number of technology firms - including Facebook, Twitter and Google - to ask how they planned to keep their platforms from being "weaponised" by terrorists, as Canberra considers new laws in the wake of attacks on two mosques in New Zealand.

Social media platforms "can get an ad to you in half a second", Mr Morrison told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"They should be able to pull down this sort of terrorist material and other types of very dangerous material in the same sort of time frame and apply their great capacities to the real challenges to keep Australians safe," he added.

Facebook had said it "quickly" removed a staggering 1.5 million videos of the harrowing viral Christchurch mosque attacks, which accused white supremacist gunman Brenton Tarrant livestreamed on the social media platform.

A 17-minute video of the March 15 rampage that claimed the lives of 50 people was widely available online, and experts said it was easily retrievable several hours after the attack.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the response from firms during the meeting was "thoroughly underwhelming".

 
 
 
 

Mr Porter said the government was "absolutely considering" the possibility of jail time for executives as it mulled over new laws. He warned that Australian laws had "extra-territorial reach" regardless of where a company is based.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's largest news website, Stuff, has cracked down on reader comments after the Christchurch massacre sparked debate about how the media handles online hate.

The stuff.co.nz site yesterday said it aimed to host a welcoming online environment but conceded that "too often, our comments section has allowed casual prejudice to seep in from the fringes".

"Of the comments that are posted, most are fair expression - but it only takes a little toxin to poison an entire stream," Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson wrote on the website.

He said the site's moderators would clamp down on personal attacks and prejudice, while removing the ability to upvote or downvote comments.

Comments will also be permanently disabled on a range of contentious topics.

Stuff, formerly Fairfax New Zealand, is one of the country's largest media companies. Its flagship news website stuff.co.nz is the most popular in New Zealand, with around 1.8 million unique viewers a month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2019, with the headline 'Aussie PM warns of jail time for social media executives'. Print Edition | Subscribe