Australia passes law that would jail social media executives over violent content

Australia passed a law Thursday that would fine social media platforms and potentially jail their executives for failing to take action on violent content, according to The New York Times.

The legislation, first proposed on March 30, could fine corporations 10 percent of their annual profit and jail executives for three years if they do not take steps to remove “abhorrent violent material.”

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The bill defines such material as videos depicting terrorist attacks, murders, rapes or kidnappings, and would also require tech companies to inform the police when they find illegal material.

The legislation came in response to a March mass shooting where an Australian white supremacist killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, livestreaming the shooting. New Zealand has banned possession or distribution of an online “manifesto” the suspect apparently published to social media.

“This is most likely a world first,” Australian Attorney General Christian Porter said, telling the newspaper “there was a near unanimous view among Australians that social media platforms had to take more responsibility for their content.”

Critics of the law have said it misplaces the blame on tech rather than hate speech.

“This law, which was conceived and passed in five days without any meaningful consultation, does nothing to address hate speech, which was the fundamental motivation for the tragic Christchurch terrorist attacks,” Sunita Bose, managing director of the Digital Industry Group Inc., an advocacy group representing several tech giants, told the Times.

Australian Sen. Richard Di Natale, a member of the Australian Greens Party, has warned the bill was “rammed through” without considering its potential ramifications.

It remains unclear, according to the Times, how Australia would enforce the law against companies that do not have offices in the country. The law also does not define the timeframe in which companies would need to remove content before facing penalties, leaving that determination to a jury, according to the Times.