Australia threatens social media executives with jail over terror images 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison ask how they planned to keep their platforms from being 'weaponised' by terrorists

Published: 26th March 2019 03:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2019 03:40 PM   |  A+A-

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SYDNEY: Australia warned social media giants Tuesday that executives could be jailed if they fail to quickly remove extremist material from their platforms.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with a number of tech firms Tuesday -- including Facebook, Twitter and Google -- to ask how they planned to keep their platforms from being "weaponised" by terrorists, as Canberra considers new laws in the wake of the New Zealand massacre.

Social media platforms "can get an ad to you in half a second," Morrison told reporters ahead of the meeting.

"They should be able to pull down this sort of terrorist material and other types of very dangerous material in the same sort of time frame and apply their great capacities to the real challenges to keep Australians safe," he added.

Facebook said it "quickly" removed a staggering 1.5 million videos of the harrowing viral Christchurch mosque attacks, which accused white supremacist gunman Brenton Tarrant livestreamed on the social media platform.

A 17-minute video of the March 15 rampage that claimed the lives of 50 people was widely available online and experts said was easily retrievable several hours after the attack.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the response from firms during Tuesday's meeting was "thoroughly underwhelming".

"The more important discussion we wanted to have today was how do you respond quicker, or indeed prevent the livestreaming of this type of material in the first instance? And the answers to those questions were not overly satisfactory," he said.

Porter said the government was "absolutely considering" the possibility of jail time for executives as it mulled new laws.

He warned Australian laws had "extra-territorial reach" regardless of where a company is based.

Cyber-security expert Nigel Phair, from the University of New South Wales, cast doubt over the ability of proposed Australian laws to impose jail time.

"The penalty is only for Australian domiciled executives, and on the whole they're marketing executives, not those responsible for running and maintaining the platform," he told broadcaster SBS.

Facebook said after the meeting it remained "shocked and saddened" by the Christchurch attacks.

"We are committed to working with leaders and communities in New Zealand, Australia and other countries, alongside other technology and media companies to help counter hate speech and the threat of terrorism," Facebook said in a statement.

The government has set up a task force, which includes representation from tech firms, to review possible responses to posting and spread of terrorist material online.

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