New Zealand ISPs Ban Websites Hosting Christchurch Shooting Video

New Zealand massacre provides test for live video platforms
HANDOUT/AFP

New Zealand ISPs are banning websites which host the Christchurch mosque shooter’s video of the massacre. In New Zealand, sharing the video is a criminal offense, and one 22-year-old reportedly faces at least ten years in prison for sharing it online. The Internet companies are not taking action against Facebook, where the video was originally livestreamed.

Vodafone, Spark, 2Degrees, Vocus, and Telstra are all reportedly banning websites which host the video.

“In terms of how long blocks stay in place, this is an ongoing, industry-wide discussion we are currently working through with other agencies to help establish a longer term solution,” claimed a Vodafone spokesman to Mashable.

“There has been a number of sites blocked and then unblocked,” continued the spokesman, as websites can reportedly become unblocked if they remove the video following a warning. “We apologise to legitimate internet users who may have been inconvenienced by this, however under the circumstances we believed it was the responsible thing for the industry to do.”

In a statement, Telstra proclaimed, “We have moved to temporarily block a number of websites that continue to host footage of Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch. We understand this may cause inconvenience for some legitimate users of these sites but these are extraordinary circumstances and they required an extraordinary response.”

“We appreciate that it is necessary to ensure free speech is carefully balanced against protecting the community – but with these sites continuing to host disturbing content we feel it is the right thing to do to block them,” the company explained. “These are shocking events and the idea that this footage could in some way be used to incite or support hate is a sickening thought. We will continue to do whatever we can to assist and to support a diverse and inclusive community.”

Simon Moutter, the managing director of Spark New Zealand, also issued a statement on Twitter.

“My cyber security team at Spark has done its best overnight to stay on top of the sites distributing the horrific material from the terrorists. Where they find it, they apply temporary blocks and notify the site, requesting they remove the material,” Moutter posted. “Once the material is removed we reopen access. Apologies to any legitimate internet users inconvenienced. This is an extreme situation and as concerned NZers, we decided to help protect our children and vulnerable people from these awful images.”

On Tuesday, Spark, Vodafone, and 2Degrees also wrote an open letter to Facebook, Google, and Twitter, calling on the three companies to take more responsibility in also blacklisting the video.

In the open letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the three companies wrote, “You may be aware that on the afternoon of Friday 15 March, three of New Zealand’s largest broadband providers, Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees, took the unprecedented step to jointly identify and suspend access to web sites that were hosting video footage taken by the gunman related to the horrific terrorism incident in Christchurch.”

As key industry players, we believed this extraordinary step was the right thing to do in such extreme and tragic circumstances. Other New Zealand broadband providers have also taken steps to restrict availability of this content, although they may be taking a different approach technically.

We also accept it is impossible as internet service providers to prevent completely access to this material. But hopefully we have made it more difficult for this content to be viewed and shared – reducing the risk our customers may inadvertently be exposed to it and limiting the publicity the gunman was clearly seeking.

We acknowledge that in some circumstances access to legitimate content may have been prevented, and that this raises questions about censorship. For that we apologise to our customers. This is all the more reason why an urgent and broader discussion is required.

Internet service providers are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, with blunt tools involving the blocking of sites after the fact. The greatest challenge is how to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media platforms and forums.

We call on Facebook, Twitter and Google, whose platforms carry so much content, to be a part of an urgent discussion at an industry and New Zealand Government level on an enduring solution to this issue.

We appreciate this is a global issue, however the discussion must start somewhere. We must find the right balance between internet freedom and the need to protect New Zealanders, especially the young and vulnerable, from harmful content. Social media companies and hosting platforms that enable the sharing of user generated content with the public have a legal duty of care to protect their users and wider society by preventing the uploading and sharing of content such as this video.

Although we recognise the speed with which social network companies sought to remove Friday’s video once they were made aware of it, this was still a response to material that was rapidly spreading globally and should never have been made available online. We believe society has the right to expect companies such as yours to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Content sharing platforms have a duty of care to proactively monitor for harmful content, act expeditiously to remove content which is flagged to them as illegal and ensure that such material – once identified – cannot be re-uploaded.

Technology can be a powerful force for good. The very same platforms that were used to share the video were also used to mobilise outpourings of support. But more needs to be done to prevent horrific content being uploaded. Already there are AI techniques that we believe can be used to identify content such as this video, in the same way that copyright infringements can be identified. These must be prioritised as a matter of urgency.

For the most serious types of content, such as terrorist content, more onerous requirements should apply, such as proposed in Europe, including take down within a specified period, proactive measures and fines for failure to do so. Consumers have the right to be protected whether using services funded by money or data.

Now is the time for this conversation to be had, and we call on all of you to join us at the table and be part of the solution.

Simon Moutter Jason Paris Stewart Sherriff

Managing Director Chief Executive Chief Executive

Spark Vodafone NZ 2degrees

Facebook reportedly removed 1.5 million copies of the video during the day after the massacre, however, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all reportedly struggled to keep up with the overwhelming amount.

According to Global News, New Zealand police “said any possession or sharing of a video showing the fatal terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch has been classed as an offence,” while sharing the shooter’s manifesto is also “absolutely against the criminal code.”

One 22-year-old man, accused of sharing the video, faces up to ten years in prison.

Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter, or like his page at Facebook.

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