Facebook, Google face hefty fines under new Australia law

Should Australia move with the introduction of the new law, the individual fines could be up to 10% of global revenues

Photo: EPA Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Social media executives could spend up to three years in prison and their firms be fined 10 percent of their turnover if they fail to quickly remove violent material from their platforms, according to a new law proposed by the Australian government. The new legislation will be presented to the parliament next week - in lawmakers' final days in power before the federal election.

“Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement after the March 15 massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 worshippers were killed, raised criticism of the role of social media in society.

“It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law,” Morrison added.

The announcement follows meetings this week between the Australian government and social media companies, including Facebook, which outcome was described as 'not satisfactory.'

“(Companies) did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch,” Mitch Fifield, Australia’s minister for communications, said in a statement on Saturday.

Now, in case the law passes, it will be a criminal offence for companies, such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google, which owns YouTube, not to “expeditiously” remove the “abhorrent violent content”. Juries would decide whether the content was removed fast enough. Morrison has also announced that Australia has created a task force between government and social media companies to tackle the issue and wants to put it on the agenda for the summit of the G20 leaders in Japan in June.

In the meantime, Facebook on Friday said it was exploring restrictions on who can access their live video-streaming service, depending on factors such as previous violations of the site’s community standards. And earlier this week the social media platform banned praise, support and representation of white nationalism and white separatism.

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