Internet service providers in Australia have temporarily blocked access to dozens of websites, including 4chan and 8chan, that hosted video of last week's New Zealand mass shooting. New Zealand ISPs have also been blocking websites that host the video.
In Australia, ISP Vodafone said that blocking requests generally come from courts or law enforcement agencies but that this time ISPs acted on their own. "This was an extreme case which we think requires an extraordinary response," Vodafone Australia said in a statement, according to an Australian Associated Press (AAP) article yesterday.
Telstra and Optus also blocked the sites in Australia. Besides 4chan and 8chan, ISP-level blocking affected the social network Voat, the blog Zerohedge, video hosting site LiveLeak, and others. "The ban on 4chan was lifted a few hours later," AAP wrote.
"The ISPs' decision to block access to websites was controversial as they acted to censor content without instruction from either the Australian Communications and Media Authority or the eSafety Commissioner, and most smaller service providers have decided to keep access open," The Australian Financial Review wrote.
The ISPs are facing some government pressure, though. Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison called Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone to a meeting to discuss ways to prevent distribution and livestreaming of violent videos, Financial Review wrote.
"We understand this may inconvenience some legitimate users of these sites, but these are extreme circumstances and we feel this is the right thing to do," Telstra said in a statement, according to AAP. Optus said it decided to block websites hosting the video after "reflecting on community expectations."
The website blocking is temporary and expected to be lifted when video of the attack is removed, according to Guardian Australia. Facebook and Twitter weren't blocked, "because they are taking active steps of their own to remove the material from their pages." Facebook has removed at least 1.5 million videos of the attack from its website.
Still, LiveLeak was blocked even though it took copies of the video off its platform.
Communications Alliance, a trade group that represents Australian telcos, said ISPs tried to minimize inconvenience for users despite blocking websites.
"These ISPs have sought to balance community expectations to remove access to the video with the need to minimize any inconvenience that may arise from legitimate content being blocked as an unavoidable, temporary consequence," Communications Alliance said, according to AAP.
New Zealand blocking
New Zealand ISPs took a similar approach. "The country's main Internet service providers, Spark, Vodafone, Vocus and 2degrees, are blocking any website which has footage of the Friday 15 March Christchurch mosque shootings," CIO New Zealand wrote on Sunday.
The ISPs "agreed to work together to identify and block access at [the] DNS level to such online locations," such as 4chan and 8chan, according to a Bleeping Computer article on Saturday.
"This is an unprecedented move by the telecommunications industry, but one that they all agree is necessary," New Zealand Telecommunications Forum Chief Executive Geoff Thorn said, according to CIO. "The industry is working together to ensure this harmful content can't be viewed by New Zealanders."
Thorn acknowledged that "there is the risk that some sites that have legitimate content could have been mistakenly blacklisted, but this will be rectified as soon as possible."
The white nationalist terrorist attacked during Friday prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed 50 people while injuring 50 more. The gunman live-streamed 17 minutes of the attack.
New Zealand authorities have been arresting people who share video of the shooting. As we noted in our coverage of the arrests, New Zealand and most other countries don't have free speech protections as extensive as those found in the US.
Australia and New Zealand also do not have net neutrality rules that prevent ISPs from blocking websites. In the US, net neutrality rules were taken off the books last year. Even when US rules were in place, the ban on blocking only applied to lawful Internet content, and the rules also did not apply when ISPs had to cooperate with law enforcement, public safety, or national security authorities.