Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has threatened social media giants with “significant” penalties if they fail to remove terrorist contents.
Morrison met with executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter on Tuesday to address their response to the Christchurch terror attacks and flagged legislation that could see executives face imprisonment if terrorist content is allowed to spread on their platforms. “We need to prevent social media platforms being weaponized with terror content,” Morrison said in a statement on Monday night.
“If social media companies fail to demonstrate a willingness to immediately institute changes to prevent the use of their platforms, like what was filmed and shared by the perpetrators of the terrible offences in Christchurch, we will take action.”
Regulating social media has become a priority for Morrison since the Christchurch attacks were live-streamed on Facebook and shared on YouTube. Facebook has revealed that it removed 1.5 million separate uploads of the footage in the 24 hours following the attacks. The original footage remained on Facebook for about an hour and was viewed more than 4,000 times. YouTube said it removed an “unprecedented” amount of content.
Under the laws proposed by Morrison, failing to remove offending footage as quickly as possible after it is brought to the attention of the platform would be made a criminal offence. Failing to rapidly remove footage classified as “abhorrent violent material” by authorities would also be made an offence.If a platform is found to have breached the new laws, its executives could face significant penalties including imprisonment while the companies themselves would also be punished.
Morrison will be joined at a meeting by Attorney-General Christian Porter, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, who said that the government wanted a commitment from social media companies to fight “terrorist material.”
“The government will be expecting commitments for the prevention, detection, blocking and removal of violent terrorist material,” Fifield told News Corp Australia. Shortly after the Christchurch attacks, Morrison called on the G20 to make regulating social media a priority at June’s meeting, saying it is “unacceptable to treat the internet as an ungoverned space.”
“It is imperative that the global community works together to ensure that technology firms meet their moral obligation to protect the communities which they serve and from which they profit,” he wrote in a letter to Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan and G20 chairman.
Morrison’s campaign against social media platforms has been supported by Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), who wrote in a newspaper column appearing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun earlier in March that “social media giants cannot be distant, far removed from the conduct of their platforms.”
“Social media and the internet are fantastic developments, allowing us to be exposed to ideas, to connect, to learn and to break down isolation,” he wrote. “But the big media platforms have an obligation to better monitor and prevent hate speech.” “I think it is time that they, like the rest of our media, worked out how they decided that some things are too dangerous and offensive to publish before they get the chance to cause harm.”