Legislation looms for Facebook, following 'underwhelming' terror streaming response

Attorney-General Christian Porter says the case made today by social media companies against a legislative response to the live streaming of criminal offending was “thoroughlyunderwhelming”.

Executives from the likes of Facebook and Youtube entered talks with the government today in Brisbane, to discuss responses to violent offences being broadcaston their platforms, as was the case in the Christchurch mosques massacre earlier this month.

“It isimpossible to understate theconsequence and significance of thatissue of a social media platformused by a terrorist perpetrator tospread terror, violence, to spreadtheir crazed and fanatical messageand this was an opportunity todissuade government from a viewthat legislation may be needed todeal with emergent issue,” Porter said immediately after the meeting.

The social media companies’ responses were, however, “thoroughlyunderwhelming” Porter said, adding, “therewas unfortunately nothing in that room that would discourage thegovernment from looking at alegislative solution”.

According to Facebook, the livestream of the Christchurch gunman’s headcam was viewed fewer than 200 times during the broadcast, and about 4000 times in total before being removed. But users shared and reuploaded the video to the platform:Facebook saidit had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally, 1.2 million of them at upload.

Youtube saidlast weekit had removed “tens of thousands of videos and terminated hundreds of accounts created to promote or glorify the shooter” and had been working “around the clock’ to rid the platform of the footage.

“The time thatit took Facebook to act with respectto the Christchurch events wastotally unreasonable,” Porter said.

It was reported that Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher, counter-terrorism expert Gullnaz Baig and Australia and New Zealand policy chief Mia Garlick were among those in attendance at the meeting. Attendees from Twitter were public policy directors Kathleen Reen and Kara Hinesley.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield confirmed today that major Australian ISPs were also at the talks. Earlier this weekTelstra, Vodafone and Optus blocked a number of sites they said weren’t acting to remove footage of Friday’s terror attack in Christchurch.

Fifield said the government would be establishing a taskforce with representatives from the social media giants and ISPs, to look at “short and medium-term responses” to the issue.

“What we want is practical measuresto see this material identified morequickly, taken down more quickly,and to see greater transparency withthe digital platforms when it comesto their responses to conveyingterrorist material,” Fifield said.

The taskforce will report to theDepartment of the Prime Minister and Cabinet through theAttorney-General's Department, theDepartment of Communications and the Arts and Department of Home Affairs.

While the preference was to “work co-operatively”, Fifield added “where thereis a need to legislate, we will nothesitate”.

Questioned about the difficulty of regulating companies based overseas, Porter said that wasn’t a reason not to try.

“The fact a company isbased in San Francisco or Russia orwhere ever it might be, and it allowsin a totally unreasonable way the live-streaming of an incredibly seriouscriminal offence – the fact that mightbe difficult to police, shouldn'tstop the Governmenttrying to make it unlawful,” he said.

Today’s meeting follows New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern last week saying her government would be scrutinising 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.

Updated 10.30am, March 27 to correct Twitter attendees.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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