Social Media Banned From Terror Broadcasts

April 4, 2019 Updated: April 4, 2019

Social media executives whose websites broadcast horrific terror attacks could face jail or billions of dollars in fines under new laws.

The Morrison government rushed the laws through parliament after the Christchurch terror attack was broadcast live by the shooter on Facebook.

The tech industry says the changes “create uncertainty” for the industry in Australia, but Attorney-General Christian Porter rejected that as scaremongering.

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“This is what they said before the cyber-bullying requirements and regulations, this is what they said before the E-Safety Commissioner, this is what they said before the takedown notice (laws)—they’re all still here,”Porter told reporters in Canberra on April 4.

Porter said website executives could face jail, depending on the circumstances, as well as massive fines.

“Facebook, if they allowed this to happen again in commensurate similar circumstances, could potentially face a fine of up to 10 percent their turnover,” he said.

The laws passed parliament with Labor’s support, as part of its commitment to bipartisanship on matters of national security.

But shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is not happy about the “ridiculous timeline” they had to consider the changes, which the party first saw on Monday afternoon.

“This bill is clumsy and flawed in many respects,” he told parliament.

If Labor wins the next election the laws will be referred to the powerful intelligence and security parliamentary committee and potentially amended.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the coalition would send the laws to the Senate communications committee after the election.

He also promised the committee would “look at the role of these platforms as publishers.”

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Digital industry lobby group DIGI said the laws are out of step with regimes in Europe and the United States.

“(It’s) therefore bad for internet users as it encourages companies to proactively surveil the vast volumes of user-generated content being uploaded at any given minute,” managing director Sunita Bose said.

The laws are targeted at instances where perpetrators of crimes upload video of them.

“It’s not going to take a lot of particular nuanced judgement to work that out. This is footage of rape, murder, torture or kidnapping,” Porter said.

The Law Council of Australia said the laws were rammed through in 24 hours without scrutiny and consultation.

“Important news can be censored across social media platforms, which is contrary to the democratic principle of a free press, which exists to hold governments to account,” president Arthur Moses said.

But Senator Fifield said there were exemptions for journalists doing their work, and the law would not impact on human rights advocates.

Media companies already have codes of practice that prevent them from showing footage of murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping.

“The law has to be the same for everyone,” Porter said.

By Angus Livingston and Marnie Banger