Australia Targets Websites with Strict Laws to Curb Violent Content

Australia has passed a controversial new law to punish tech companies, including locking up their executives, if they host violent content on their platforms.

The new law is the first of its kind following last month’s bloody events in New Zealand, when a gunman shot at Muslim worshipers, killing 50 people and broadcasting the mass murder directly on Facebook.

The Australian government said the websites should not be spoiled with these materials.

Opponents said the laws had been passed to parliament without scrutiny.

The new law states that technology companies may face penalties if they fail to remove “violent content” as soon as they are deployed on the platforms. These include terrorist attacks, killings, rape, torture and kidnappings.

Penalties, according to the law, include fines of US $ 7.5 million or 10 percent of the company’s total annual revenue. Directors of these companies or “providing content services” are punished by up to three years’ imprisonment.

The law places the responsibility on companies to delete the content “promptly”, a term that is not exactly defined by the law, but will be subject to the discretion of the tribunal, according to the Australian government statement.

Social media sites struggled to keep video of the attack on Christchurch’s New Zealand mosques, while videos of the attack were shown on the extreme right-wing “8chan” file sharing site, which was copied 1.5 million times from the site.

Last week, Facebook said it would put restrictions on the live broadcast service after criticism of New Zealand’s offensive.

Criticism of the law

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the draft laws for the first time last week.

The Labor Party opposition within the Australian parliament cooperated in passing the law on Thursday, although they described it as “horrifying.”

The opposition has vowed to review these laws after the general election in Australia, which is expected next month.

Australian Attorney General Christian Porter said the move “may be the first in the world.”

“Some platforms – like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook – do not appear to be assuming their responsibilities and do not mind showing violent and objectionable material,” prosecutor Porter said in remarks on Thursday.

Morrison met social networking managers last week, who opposed the bill – as opposed to legal experts.

Digital Industry Group, a group of Australian technology companies, said the companies it represented promised to remove the violent content quickly.

“Removing violent content is a complex problem because of the huge amount of data being uploaded on the Internet every second,” a company spokesman said.

Law experts have warned that, in its current state of affairs, the law may lead to censorship of the media or prevent those wishing to report violations of information sharing.

“Laws that are an unaccountable reaction to a tragic event may not amount to good legislation and may have many unintended consequences,” the Australian Bar Council said.