Australia threatens social media laws that could jail tech executives

By Daniel Van Boom

2019 Breakthrough Prize - Red Carpet

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Lachlan Cunningham

Following the livestreamed New Zealand mosque shooting that left 50 dead in Christchurch, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is looking to crack down on extremist content on social media.

Morrison will on Tuesday meet with Australian executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google to discuss extremist content legislation that would punish these companies' executives with jail time, the Australian Financial Review reports. Local internet service providers will also be present at the meeting.

"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," said Morrison.

"We are considering all options to keep Australian safe."

Tech companies have been subjected to increased scrutiny to better regulate their content following Facebook's inability to catch and remove the Christchurch shooter's livestream of the massacre.

Facebook said last week that no users reported the 17-minute video when it was live, and that the first user report came 12 minutes after the livestream ended. In other words, the original video was available on Facebook for a full 29 minutes. Facebook was able to purge 1.5 million uploads of the video and 1.2 million were blocked before going live on the platform.

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Details of the proposed legislation aren't yet known. However, Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which applies to any company operating in the continent, showed that tech companies can change their global practices to appease local legislation.

News of Morrison's meeting with tech executives comes on the same day that his government announced increased punishment for companies misusing user information. Maximum penalties for misuse of private data was raised from AU$2.1 million to AU$10 million -- or 10 percent of the company's domestic revenue, or three times the value gained from that misuse of data.

"The tech industry needs to do much more to protect Australians' data and privacy," said Communications Minister Mitchell Fifield.