The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill was earlier announced as a reaction to the horrific Christchurch terrorist attacks, which were streamed live across social media, and was yesterday passed by Parliament.
The bill will create two new crimes under the Criminal Code: one, it would be a criminal offence “for social media platforms not to remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously, punishable by three years’ imprisonment or fines equating up to 10 per cent of a platform’s annual turnover”; and two, “platforms anywhere in the world would have to notify the Australian Federal Police if aware their service was streaming abhorrent violent conduct occurring in Australia”, punishable by fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for a corporation for failures to adhere.
But while ensuring that social media “is not weaponised to promote hatred and violence”, the legislation does not intend to crack down on online hate speech that incites violence, and should not be rushed through Parliament, according to the Law Council of Australia.
“Making social media companies and their executives criminally liable for the livestreaming of criminal content is a serious step which requires careful consideration. Furthermore, the legislation should not absolve government taking steps to prevent crimes being livestreamed,” LCA president Arthur Moses SC said.
Law enforcement agencies must work with social media companies to develop intelligence sharing protocols to assist in detecting livestreaming that is broadcasting violent or criminal content, he continued.
“As we know, laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” Mr Moses said.
“Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime. It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable.”
Imposing penalties on companies based on their annual turnover rather than by reference to a maximum set of penalties was “problematic and could lead to difficulties with sentencing, with companies to be punished by reference to their size rather than the seriousness of their breach”, Mr Moses continued.
“This would be bad for certainty and bad for business. It could have a chilling effect on businesses investing in Australia. We also need to be sensible when working on these offences and not demand of social media companies what they cannot reasonably be expected to do,” he said.