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Australia’s new law threatens jail if social-media firms don’t remove violent content

The new legislation means social-media executives could face up to three years in jail, or be fined up to 10% of their company’s annual revenue, if they fail to take down violent content in an “expeditious” manner.

Specifically: The bill defines “abhorrent violent content” as terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping. It’s less clear how quickly this sort of content is expected to be removed. The law says companies must take it down “within a reasonable time after becoming aware of the existence.” There are certain exemptions for purposes like law enforcement, court proceedings, artistic work, and journalism.

A reaction: The legislation is being enacted as part of the response to the live-streamed killing of 50 people in two mosques by an Australian gunman in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month. The live video was reportedly up for 20 minutes, but the recording was reposted on YouTube and spread elsewhere online. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million copies over the subsequent 24 hours. Australia’s attorney general, Christian Porter, described the bill as a “world first” and said he hopes other countries will adopt similar laws.

Criticisms: Some lawmakers said the bill had been rushed to get it through ahead of upcoming elections in May. Others said it was ill-conceived. “This bill is clumsy and flawed in many respects,” said Mark Dreyfus, a Labor Party member. He raised concerns that it could force social-media companies to conduct “proactive surveillance” to stay compliant.

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