Following the horrific Christchurch massacre in New Zealand in March, Australia and New Zealand decided to more closely monitor websites and social media. During the attack, the alleged gunman live streamed the tragic event on Facebook.
This is not the first time that violent acts have been publicized over the internet. Police violence has been captured on body cameras and shown on the news. Footage from the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting was shown online from a victim’s phone. Acts of terrorism are readily available for viewing with the evolution of technology.
Though social media giants and websites remove the negative content as soon as they are made aware, Australia feels this is not enough.
Blocking Domains Down Under
The country has decided to block internet domains that host terrorist material during crisis events. Their purpose behind this motion is to prevent extremists from exploiting digital platforms to post their own violent content.
Currently, the process for blocking domains would fall in the hands of internet service providers Telstra, Vodafone, TPG, Optus, and the Australian eSafety Commissioner. They would determine on a case-by-case basis what material needs to be censored and quickly block access during an attack. Also in the works is a 24/7 Crisis Coordination Centre, which would monitor the online world for violent material.
The country not only plans to ban extremist violence but will block any domains hosting the following:
Putting the Intentions Into Action
Refusing to allow criminals and other extremist groups to post their material online will prevent them from “glorifying their crimes” according to Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. In theory, this would prevent people from performing copycat actions.
While the base of their intent is clear, the framework for determining what content to block is still in the works. Government leaders in Australia are considering legislation to force internet companies to improve their safety. There has been no mention of the consequences for the internet giants if they do not comply. Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter and others were told to provide details to the government by the end of next month about how they plan to carry out the new recommendations.
Line Between Safety and Freedom
Many questions are left unanswered by the new decree. How are media organizations going to cover violent events if their content will be blocked online? Will Australia completely block an entire website or social media platform if they don’t remove one post in a timely manner? What is the time frame for removing content?
A spokesperson for Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher explained that social media platforms are not the target of blocking. The process will more so be used to block sites on the fringe of the internet. Without a definite framework for blocking content thus far, there is no guarantee that an entire platform won’t be blocked in Australia.
Where Does Censorship Fit In?
Censorship concerns have been rising in areas throughout the world with promoted tweets over the Hong Kong protests and threats against YouTube for allowing videos of protests in Russia. There have even been concerns over countries not allowing the use of VPNs, so that residents can’t view content that may conflict with the government. Putting content regulation in the hands of one Australian commissioner or the country’s internet service providers may be cause for concern.
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