Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new legislation would be introduced into Parliament next week as part of the action the Government was taking to keep Australians safe in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks.
“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” the Prime Minister said.
“It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law. And that is what my Government will be doing next week to force social media companies to get their act together and work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to defuse the threat their technologies can present to the safety of Australians.
“This is about keeping Australians safe by forcing social media companies to step up and do what the community expects of them to stop terrorists and criminals spreading their hate.
“A new taskforce bringing Government and social media companies together will also ensure we are all working together to deny terrorists the opportunity to use social media as part of their hatred and violence.
“These responses will form the basis of a model approach that Australia can take to the G20 to get our global partners on board to bring social media companies into our collective net of responsibility and accountability. We are already working to this end with our G20 and five eyes partners, including New Zealand.”
The Attorney-General Christian Porter said, “the Criminal Code Amendment (Unlawful Showing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019 will include new offences with penalties of up 10 per cent of a company’s annual turnover and potential prison sentences for executives of social media companies who fail to act to remove abhorrent violent material from their platforms.”
“The Morrison Government will always act to keep Australians safe, and that includes keeping Australians safe online.”
Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield said that “social media companies, like Facebook, which met with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, myself and Minister Dutton earlier this week did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch.”
“We will not allow social media platforms to be weaponised by terrorists and violent extremists who seek to harm and kill and nor would we allow a situation that a young Australian child could log onto social media and watch a mass murder take place.”
The Attorney-General said the amendments would be modelled on existing offences in the Criminal Code which require platforms to notify police if their service is being used to access child pornography.
“Mainstream media that broadcast such material would be putting their licence at risk and there is no reason why social media platforms should be treated any differently,” the Attorney-General said.
“These companies have a social responsibility and they have clearly failed to meet that responsibility in their response to Christchurch. The Morrison Government will force action from these companies through these new laws.”
The Bill will include new provisions to deal with the showing of “abhorrent violent material” which is material produced by a perpetrator, and which plays or livestreams the very worst types of offences. It will capture the playing or streaming of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping on social media.
It will include two new sets of offences:
- It will be a criminal offence for social media platforms not to remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously. This will be punishable by 3 years’ imprisonment or fines that can reach up to 10% of the platform’s annual turnover.
- Platforms anywhere in the world must notify the AFP if they become aware their service is streaming abhorrent violent conduct that is happening in Australia. A failure to do this will be punishable by fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for a corporation.
The e-Safety Commissioner will be given the power to issue notices that bring this type of material to the attention of the social media companies. As soon as they receive a notice, they will be deemed to be aware of the material, meaning the clock starts ticking for the platform to remove the material or face extremely serious criminal penalties.
“The Bill will not impact the ability of news media to report on events which are in the public interest,” Minister Fifield said.
“Australia’s mainstream media already adopt a sensible approach to broadcasting material which can cause harm to individuals, as is required under their licensing arrangements.”
“The focus of this Bill is to put responsibility back on the social media giants to prevent their platforms being co-opted by terrorists, criminals and violent extremists,” the Attorney-General said.