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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14462

Internet Content

Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (15:07): My question is to the Attorney-General. Would the Attorney-General please update the House on what the government is doing to protect Australians online? And what is it doing to hold social media companies to account?

Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General) (15:07): As the member is aware, the utterly tragic events in Christchurch demonstrated that the tools that can now be used by terrorists to spread fear, violence and messages of fanatical hate are not limited, very sadly, to guns. The role that social media, and in this case particularly Facebook, played in those tragic events is one that deserves scrutiny and condemnation and a response from this parliament. That's particularly the case because the abject failure of social media, and particularly the platform of Facebook to properly control the content on its own platform, where Facebook makes enormous profit in the business of content provision, is something that needs attention and a response.

Previous events have included, for the benefit of the House: in March 2017, Facebook broadcast live the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in the United States by multiple assailants; in April 2017, Facebook broadcast the murder in the United States of 74-year-old Robert Goodwin, and the murder was able to be viewed on Facebook for three hours; and Facebook is also responsible for the showing of two videos of a man in Thailand killing his 11-month-old daughter, which were available for 24 hours before being removed and were viewed over 370,000 times.

In specific relation to the Christchurch footage, which depicted astonishing violence of the most atrocious type—motivated by, as we know, and designed to spread fanatical far-right extremism—the footage started in a live stream broadcast at 1.33 pm and it live streamed for 17 minutes until 1.50 pm. The originally posted footage continued to be available, viewed, downloaded and forwarded until 2.40 pm, some 72 minutes after it started live streaming. Notwithstanding that a complaint had been received by Facebook through its own mechanisms on its own platform at the 29-minute mark, Facebook offered no information to the Prime Minister last week in a meeting and offered no evidence or indication that they took any proper notice or action, even on the complaint available on their own system at the 29-minute mark. In fact, it appears that Facebook did precisely nothing until the intervening event of New Zealand police contacting Facebook at 2.31 pm, 63 minutes after the live streaming commenced.

The only thing perhaps more concerning than the abject failure by Facebook to control the content of its own platform is the legal fact that there is not any sufficient recourse for this parliament if such a failure occurs in the future in Australia. Content providers and hosts can no longer be reckless as to the presence of that type of abhorrently violent material. The time to pass a law to make that so is this week, and the time to pass a law that says that content servers should suffer the most serious penalties for failing to expeditiously remove abhorrently violent material is this week.

Mr Morrison: I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.