A new Australian law could mean that executives of major social media firms could face huge fines — or even jail time – for failing to remove violent videos and images from their networks.
CNET reports that executives and owners of websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and even image board sites such as 4Chan could face harsh penalties under a new Australian law that aims to prevent the display of violent images and videos on these platforms. The new “world-first” laws were developed in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shooting which saw 49 people killed.
The legislation was passed in Australian parliament on Thursday and targets social media sites with large fines and jail terms for company executives if they fail or refuse to remove “abhorrent violent material” from their respective platforms. These laws are unique in the fact that they target the social networks and their owners rather than the individuals that upload the violent material.
The new laws require that Internet service providers, social networks and “content service providers” ensure the “expeditious removal” of violent material from their platforms. The providers are also required to notify the Australian Federal Police “within a reasonable time” of becoming aware of its presence on their platforms. The law defines abhorrent violent material as audio or visual material that includes footage of terrorist acts, murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping.
The penalties for failing to do so are up to three years in jail for individuals and fines of as much as 10 percent of a company’s annual revenue. The laws are supposedly designed to stop the spread of violent material such as the livestream footage of the shooting at the Christchurch mosque. Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter stated that the laws were “most likely a world first” in terms of legislating and regulating how social media networks act. “There was a near unanimous view among Australians that social media platforms had to take more responsibility for their content… and the law should prevent them from live streaming or playing acts of the most horrendous violence,” he said.
The attorney general singled out 4Chan specifically stating: “If you look at an organization like 4Chan, which is a hosting service, that was created, owned and operated by an individual,” he said. “With respect to the larger platforms like Facebook, YouTube, there could be instances where an individual is so complicit with the reckless availability of violent material that they would be individually liable.”
The Digital Industry Group Inc, an organization which includes companies such as Amazon and Verizon Media, commented on the legislation stating that it was rushed and “does nothing to address hate speech.” In a statement the group said: “No one wants abhorrent content on their websites, and DIGI members work to take this down as quickly as possible. But with the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is a highly complex problem that requires discussion with the technology industry, legal experts, the media and civil society to get the solution right — that didn’t happen this week.”