COMMENT:

The Australian government has passed tough new legislation that threatens social media companies with fines up to 10 per cent of their revenue and their executives up to three years' jail if they fail to remove "abhorrent violent material expeditiously." (Read a full explainer on the new law below.)

READ MORE:
NZ watchdog slams tough new Aussie social media law

"There are platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook who do not seem to take their responsibility to not show the most abhorrently violent material seriously," Attorney-General Christian Porter told media.

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Porter added the legislation, introduced after the Christchurch terror attacks, was "most likely a world first."

It's certainly ahead of us.

While Jacinda Ardern has been - rightly - admired around the world for her swift action on gun control, our PM's comments on social media have been notably more watery, and nothing is being done.

Ardern - a high-rotate Facebook Live user - has said social networks have to do more, and that she wants to meet with Facebook executives.

But it's still not clear what, if any, legislative change will be made.

"Ultimately, we can all promote good rules locally, but these platforms are global," Ardern said earlier this week - echoing a Washington Post editorial by Facebook founder calling for a global framework of social media rules. I don't think that will happen. If it ever did, it would take years (as Zuck is well aware).

Critics say the Aussie social media law is too rushed, and fear it could be abused for censorship, or that companies could be unfairly criminalised.

Scott Farquhar, founder of the hot Aussie startup Atlassian (owner of Trello) said that no one wanted abhorrent violent material on the internet but "the legislation is flawed and will unnecessarily cost jobs and damage our tech industry".

The opposition Labor Party supported the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill, but also promised to review it in May - and said it wouldn't support extraditing tech executives to face criminal charges.

And the new law has no formal definition of "swift" action, which is surely going to make prosecutions problematic.

But while it's not perfect, the Aussies have at least sent social media companies a strong message.

Here, we've gone in the opposite direction, with MPs hosing-down Privacy Commissioner John Edwards' request to levy $1m fines.

The field is wide open for any party, or any politician, to address the huge concerns that parents, and most New Zealanders, have about disturbing content on social media, and the difficulty that regulators like the Privacy Commissioner and Chief Censor have in holding them to account.

As things stand, the strongest action we've seen has been from the private sector, through telcos blocking hate sites (even if hate content on mainstream social media is the main concern) and companies pulling ad campaigns from social platforms.

How the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act works

NOW DOES SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM SUCH AS FACEBOOK COMMIT A CRIME?

Internet service providers and providers of hosting services or content have committed a crime if they fail to remove "abhorrent violent material expeditiously." The material has to be accessible from Australia. "Abhorrent violent material" is defined as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping. The material must he recorded by the perpetrator of the crime or an accomplice for the law to apply.

The definition excludes sports such as boxing, medical procedures and sexual acts that are violent but consensual. The material can be audio-visual, solely audio, or solely visual. It can be livestreamed or recorded and can include still images taken from video. "Expeditiously" is not defined. That would be decided by a jury. The crime would be punishable by three years in prison and a $A2.1 million ($2.2m) fine for an individual. Corporations can be fined A$10.5 million ($11.1) or 10% of the platform's annual turnover, whichever amount is larger.

ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS?

There are legal defences where the material relates to a news report that is in the public interest, a court proceeding, research or an artistic work. The attorney general has the discretion to prevent prosecutions considered inappropriate. The government argues the operations of traditional media are unlikely to be effected.

- With reporting by AP