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Tech companies face fines and jail time if they fail to remove violent content under new Australia law

It comes in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand on 15 March.

Image: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee

AUSTRALIA HAS RUSHED in new laws which could see tech companies fined billions of dollars for not removing violent content from their sites in a timely fashion. 

It comes in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack in New Zealand on 15 March, which was live-streamed online and saw footage from the event go viral. 

According to the new legislation, tech companies are responsible to “ensure that online platforms cannot be exploited and weaponised by perpetrators of violence”. 

Companies who fail to “take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material” will face fines of billions of dollars – up to 10% of their annual turnover – while company executives could face up to three years in prison. 

Following the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter to vent his frustration at violent content on social media. 

He said: “It’s completely unacceptable the initial footage of the Christchurch terrorist attack was up online for 69 minutes before it was taken down. That has to change.”

‘Knee-jerk’

Tech companies and organisations in Australia, however, have warned the “knee-jerk” move by the Australian government would have unintended consequences. 

The Digital Industry Group (DIGI), which represent Facebook, Twitter and Google, condemned the move as “concerning” and “inappropriate”. 

Ahead of the bill being passed by government, managing director of DIGI, Sunita Bose said tech companies “share the Government’s commitment to keeping Australians safe and have been working with governments, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies”.

“Announcing measures such as jailing staff at social media companies is inappropriate for a democracy such as Australia, and does not help the debate or solve the issue,” she said. 

President of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses, said the legislation should “not demand of social media companies what they cannot reasonably be expected to do”.

“Laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” he said. 

“Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime.

“It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable,” he added.

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