Christchurch shootings prompt new Australian legislation to govern social media
The mosque shootings that took place on 15 March 2019 in Christchurch sent shock waves throughout the world. The event, which lasted 17 minutes, was live streamed by the killer on Facebook and subsequently viewed and shared over a million times in the hour after it was posted. In response to the tragic event, the Australian Parliament is in the process of implementing new legislation which will hold social media companies more liable for not removing harmful content “expeditiously”.
The new legislation has been welcomed by the Australian government who have recognised that there are no laws currently in place which require social medial companies to act urgently to prevent users accessing and viewing harmful and violent content. Given the magnitude of such social media sites and the number of users, it is surprising that there aren’t any tighter laws around what gets posted on such sites.
Critics of the new legislation have argued that the laws have been rushed through in response to the Christchurch shootings without proper consideration of how it will affect censorship and what the unintended affects of the legislation will be. The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), the company which represents the biggest social media companies out there, such as Facebook, have noted that the legislation will impose heavy fines and potential prison sentences on such social media companies despite the fact the content has been created by its users. Questions have also been raised as to what “expeditiously” means in the context of the new legislation, which does not seem to be defined.
Today, in the UK, the Online Harms white paper has been revealed which proposes legislation for a new statutory duty of care by social medial firms. The legislation, similarly to the Australian legislation, will impose a higher level of responsibility on social media executives for failing to remove harmful content.
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