Australia plans tougher laws to thwart violent online content

MELBOURNE • Social media executives could spend up to three years in prison and their firms may be fined 10 per cent of turnover if they fail to quickly remove violent material from their platforms, according to a new law proposed by the Australian government.

The March 15 massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 worshippers were killed at two mosques, was carried out by a white supremacist who live-streamed the killings on Facebook, raising criticism of the role of social media in society.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement: "Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists.

"It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law."

If the law passes, it will be a criminal offence for companies, such as Facebook and Alphabet's Google, which owns YouTube, not to "expeditiously" remove the "abhorrent violent content".

Juries would decide whether the content was removed fast enough.

The government will present the law to Parliament next week - its expected final week before the federal election.


Mr Morrison also said that Australia had created a task force involving the government and social media companies to tackle the issue and wanted to put it on the agenda for the summit of the Group of 20 leaders in Japan in June.

The Australian government said it had met earlier in the week with social media companies, including Facebook, but that the outcome of the talks was not satisfactory.

Australia's minister for communications Mitch Fifield said in a statement yesterday that the social media companies "did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch".

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

Earlier last week, Facebook banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.

Should Australia move with the introduction of the new law, the individual fines of up to 10 per cent of global revenues could be hefty.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'Australia plans tougher laws to thwart violent online content'. Print Edition | Subscribe