Australian PM Scott Morrison proposes tough criminal laws for social media companies

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has floated tough new criminal laws to crackdown on social media in the wake of the Christchurch terror video. 

Individual executives working for social media companies in Australia could face heavy penalties and could be held personally liable if the new laws are implemented, The Conversation reported

It would become a criminal offence for social media companies to fail to quickly remove footage posted online that showed extreme violence - like that which was live-streamed by the alleged Christchurch gunman. 

The footage allegedly uploaded by the 28-year-old Australian national has been banned in New Zealand by Chief Censor David Shanks, who has labelled the video 'objectionable', meaning it is illegal to distribute. 

According to The Conversation, Morrison will meet representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter in Brisbane on Tuesday. He will be accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Attorney-General Christian Porter and Communications Minister Mitch Field. 

"We need to prevent social media platforms being weaponised," Morrison said ahead of the meeting, adding that Australia "will take action" if social media companies fail to act when extreme footage circulates on their platforms. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo credit: AAP

It would be a crime for a social media company like Facebook to not quickly remove extreme content after receiving a notice to do so, under the proposed laws. The penalties for not removing the content would also escalate the longer it remained. 

Morrison called for a social media crackdown last week after the alleged Christchurch gunman used Facebook to livestream his shooting, which was then shared via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.

He wrote to G20 chairman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking for social media reform to be the top priority at the next annual meeting of world leaders, which represents two-thirds of the world's population.

Questions have been raised over who should be blamed for the terrorist's livestream still being widely shared on social media, despite it being removed over 1.5 million times within the first 24 hours.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also come out strong against social media companies not responding quickly enough to the illicit video being shared online. 

In her speech to Parliament last week, she said: "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."

In a statement to Newshub last week, Google said it had removed "tens of thousands of videos [and] terminated hundreds of accounts created to promote or glorify the shooter". 

Ardern acknowledged last week that Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, had been in touch, and on Monday night she met with Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith to discuss potential changes.