by George Nott

Telcos block sites in wake of NZ government plea

Mar 19, 2019

Australia’s major telcos have temporarily blocked a number of sites hosting footage of Friday’s terror attack in Christchurch.

The action follows a plea from New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs for help in stopping the spread of the footage online.

Telstra announced the actionon Twitteryesterday evening, adding: “We understand this may inconvenience some legitimate users of these sites, but these are extreme circumstances and we feel this is the right thing to do.”

Vodafone confirmed it had taken similar steps yesterday, with the block involving “dozens of sites known to be still actively hosting footage”. It, too, apologised for any inconvenience but added “we believe it’s the right thing to do in these extreme circumstances to help stop the further distribution of this video”.

Optus held out on a block until today when it confirmed that “reflecting on community expectations,” it had followed suit.

The action by telcos follows the NZ department issuing a letter calling for support for its efforts to remove the online footage.

“We cannot control the international sharing of this objectionable content, and as such, it is important to leverage our partnerships to assist us in managing this terrible situation,” the letter from the department’s Digital Safety Group read.

The telcos would not disclose the names of the sites, but Twitter users have claimed access to 4chan, 8chan, Kiwi Farms, Encyclopaedia Dramatica, Live Leak, Voat and Zerohedge were affected, depending on the ISP.

Despite the gunman choosing to livestream the massacre on Facebook, and the video still being shared there and on Twitter days later, the block has not been applied to the social media sites.

A Vodafone spokesperson said the distinction was that: “[The blocked sites] are sites that are actively still hosting the content. The platforms you have named are taking action to remove the content.”

A Telstra spokesperson said Twitter and Facebook were “proactively moderating”.

Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, 1.2 million of them at upload. The platform also said it was removing edited versions of the video and “any praise or support” for the gunman.

According to Facebook, the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast. The social media service said the video was viewed about 4000 times in total before being removed. The first report it received was 12 minutes after the broadcast had ended.

Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby said that before the company was alerted to the video an 8chan user had posted a link to a copy of the video hosted by a file-sharing site.

“We continue to work around the clock to remove violating content using a combination of technology and people,” Facebook Australia and New Zealand director of policy Mia Garlick saidon Sunday.

Members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT)– which include Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram –said todaythey had“shared digital fingerprints of more than 800 visually-distinct videos related to the attack via our collective database, along with URLs and context on our enforcement approaches”.

Australia’s eSafety CommissionerJulie Inman Grant said today she had contacted the major social media platforms“to understand what measures they’re taking to prevent the proliferation of the terrorist video and related inflammatory and harmful content following the tragic and senseless Christchurch shootings”.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner confirmed it had “not provided any direction or advice to Australian ISPs in regard to the blocking of websites” hosting the footage.

UndertheBroadcasting Services Act 1992, the Commissioner deals with complaints about prohibited online content, with powers to issue a takedown or cessation notice when such content is hosted or streamed in Australia.

Since Friday’s attack the office had received more than 60 reports about related content, and investigators are currently working to determine if it is hosted locally.

“This horrific case further highlights the need for companies to take proactive steps to prevent their online platforms from being used to perpetuate hate, crime and heinous acts of terrorism,” the eSafety Commissioner said in a statement.

Today, in her first address to parliament since the attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said her government would consider the role of social media in the incident.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility,” she said.