'World-first' laws could cost social media bosses billions and jail time

By political reporter Dan Conifer

Updated March 30, 2019 09:14:40

Social media executives could be jailed and their companies fined billions of dollars if they fail to remove terrorist material like the Christchurch massacre live stream, under proposed new laws.

Key points:

  • The Christchurch shootings were streamed for 17 minutes
  • The Prime Minister has demanded firms take steps to prevent similar live streams
  • Under new laws, social media companies would be forced to take videos down "expeditiously"

The Morrison Government is pledging to introduce the bill to Parliament next week after the killing of 50 people at two mosques was broadcast live on Facebook.

The atrocity was live streamed for 17 minutes and the original video remained online for more than an hour after the attack.

The Prime Minister and senior ministers met with social media companies this week, demanding they take steps to prevent the platforms being exploited in the same way again.

But the Government was unsatisfied and last night said it would be proceeding with world-first legislation in response.

"Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"This is about keeping Australians safe by forcing social media companies to ... stop terrorists and criminals spreading their hate."

The bill would cover "abhorrent violent material", such as videos that showed terrorist attacks, murders or rapes.

Companies like Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, would be forced to take down videos "expeditiously".

Attorney-General Christian Porter said juries would determine whether material was not removed quickly enough in each case.

While the legislation would not apply retrospectively, Mr Porter said he expected a jury would find Facebook guilty over the Christchurch video.

He said it remained online for 69 minutes.

"That is a totally unreasonable period of time and represents a complete failure of Facebook's own systems," he said.

Executives based in Australia and overseas could face up to three years' imprisonment if found guilty, and companies could be fined up to 10 per cent of annual turnover.

Mr Porter said he expected the new laws would pressure tech firms to improve their systems.

"They'll invest more seriously in the type of technology and human resources that are required to identify this material, prevent it from being live streamed ... and take it down quickly if it does slip through that initial net."

Google's parent company enjoyed revenue of $US136.8 billion ($192.7 billion) during 2018, meaning technology companies could be liable for billions of dollars if successfully prosecuted.

Facebook under fire for sending 'junior' staff to meeting

Mr Morrison was joined by the Home Affairs Minister, Communications Minister and Attorney-General at Tuesday's meeting with social media companies.

But Mr Porter said Facebook sent along "utterly junior" representatives who did not assure the Government changes would be made.

"It didn't represent an appropriate understanding of the seriousness of Facebook's failure in this instance."

Mr Porter said the legislation would also apply to copies of the original video or live feed.

Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million copies of the Christchurch video in the days following the attack.

The Government's e-Safety Commissioner would be given the power to issue notices bringing the material to the attention of social media firms.

The Australian Federal Police would also need to be notified by companies if they are aware their service is being used to live broadcast extreme violence taking place in Australia.

Topics: science-and-technology, internet-culture, information-and-communication, social-media, terrorism, community-and-society, australia, new-zealand

First posted March 29, 2019 23:59:08