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Parliament Bound

Australia Proposes Bill to Stop “Weaponization” of Social Media

It would punish social media companies for allowing terrorists to exploit their platforms.

Kristin HouserApril 1st 2019

Spreading Hate

Australia is considering a bill designed to prevent the “weaponization” of social media — the kind of activity the Christchurch terrorist engaged in before an attack that killed 50 people in the nearby nation of New Zealand in March.

“We will not allow social media platforms to be weaponised by terrorists and violent extremists who seek to harm and kill,” Australia’s Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said in a press release announcing the bill, “and nor would we allow a situation that a young Australian child could log onto social media and watch a mass murder take place.”

Facebook’s Failure

On March 15, a white nationalist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, livestreaming the first 17 minutes of the shooting on Facebook Live.

Once police alerted them to it, Facebook removed the video, according to a tweet from Facebook’s newsroom, as well as the shooter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.

However, the fact that the horrific livestream went on for 17 minutes — and that Facebook had to find out about it from a third party — confirms that its internal team of human moderators and artificial intelligence software is not enough to prevent the weaponization of its platform.

Taking Responsibility

To that end, Australia plans to introduce into Parliament this week the Criminal Code Amendment (Unlawful Showing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019, a bill Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter said was designed to “put responsibility back on the social media giants to prevent their platforms being co-opted by terrorists, criminals, and violent extremists.”

If passed into law, the bill would make it a criminal offense for social media platforms “not to remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously,” with violators facing up to three years in prison or fines equivalent to up to 10 percent of their company’s annual turnover.

Social media companies would also face fines of up to A$840,000 (US$597,706) for not notifying the Australian Federal Police if they find out their platforms are “streaming abhorrent violent conduct that is happening in Australia.”

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in the press release. “It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law.”

READ MORE: Countries Want to Ban ‘Weaponized’ Social Media. What Would That Look Like? [The New York Times]

More on Facebook: Former Content Moderators Are Suing Facebook Over PTSD and Trauma

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