Australian Bill Could Put Social Network Execs In Jail Over Violent Content

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Australia is planning to take a stricter approach to violent online material in light of the mass shooting that occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Australian government is set to introduce legislation that would punish social networks that do not “expeditiously” take down “abhorrent” violent content that was produced by perpetrators, such as kidnapping, rape, and terrorism. If found guilty, a firm could not only face fines of a maximum of 10 percent of their annual turnover but also see its executives put in jail for a maximum of three years. The Safety Commissioner of the country would have the power to issue formal notices, giving the firms a deadline to remove the offensive material.

Platform hosts would also have to send a notification to Australia if they discover that their service is streaming violent content that is taking place within the country. If they don’t, they could face fines that would amount to a maximum of $168,000 AUD for an individual and $840,000 AUD for a firm. The new legislation would ultimately be similar to those requiring firms to notify law enforcement if someone is using their service to have access to child pornography.

Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, was not shy about the motivations as he argued that social media sites have the “responsibility to take every possible action” to make sure that they are not serving as vehicles for the agenda of terrorists. He hoped that his country would serve as a “model approach” for G20 nations to follow.

According to Mitch Fifield, the Communications Minister of Australia, the measure would not prevent news outlets from reporting on events.

If the bill becomes law, it would pressure Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites to do whatever they can to take down videos of violent crime. However, there are questions regarding the viability of the law. Both YouTube and Facebook struggled to remove every instance of the video of the Christchurch shooter even with heavy automation at work, and it did not take much for people to edit these videos in a way that would impede AI filters. It is not clear if the proposed law would consider those reasonable attempts. They might be off the hook, however, they could also face stiff penalties simply for missing a single copy of a video.