Australia Proposes Fines, Jail Time for Social Media Executives Who Fail to Remove Violent Content

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From The Washington Post:

Australia is considering hefty fines and even jail time for executives at social media companies who fail to remove violent content quickly. The proposal is one of the most sweeping crackdowns on tech companies’ content moderation efforts that policymakers in a democratic government have ever considered.

The new legislation, to be introduced this week, would fine companies up to 10 percent of their annual revenue and calls for up to three years in jail — and comes as Australian officials slammed social media companies such as Facebook for failing to offer immediate solutions after violent videos of the New Zealand shooting proliferated online.

“It should not just be a matter of just doing the right thing. It should be the law,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. “And that is what my Government will be doing next week to force social media companies to get their act together and work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to defuse the threat their technologies can present to the safety of Australians.”

These kinds of penalties are far tougher than anything that Congress is currently considering in the United States. But the pressure from countries such as Australia — and others in Europe— could force a broader debate in the U.S. on whether the government needs to play a greater role in regulating how content is policed online.

For now, though, it’s contributing to a growing patchwork of laws around the globe as different countries set their own benchmarks for acceptable behavior by these U.S.-headquartered but globally operating companies. And that in itself could prove difficult for the companies to navigate.

. . . .

Companies are increasingly concerned about the fragmented landscape — and are calling for an international consensus on privacy standards and removal of harmful content. In an op-ed published in The Washington Post this weekend, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the world needs a “globally harmonized framework” as the U.S. considers its own privacy legislation.

. . . .

Industry isn’t alone in calling for more international standards. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday that some international consensus is needed on addressing violent content.

“Ultimately, we can all promote good rules locally, but these platforms are global,” she said, according to the New York Times.

. . . .

“Mainstream media that broadcast such material would be putting their licence at risk and there is no reason why social media platforms should be treated any differently,” the Australian attorney-general Christian Porter said in a statement announcing the legislation.

And they are not alone in their desire for fines: The United Kingdom is considering fines of up to 4 percent of global revenue for failure to remove harmful content, and Germany has a law on the books that allows the government to fine companies for hate speech and other problematic content.

The collective moves could increase pressure for lawmakers to to reexamine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that essentially creates a different legal standard for Internet companies than traditional media businesses because it says they cannot be held liable for content others post on their platforms.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG suggests this issue potentially affects authors of all sorts of different material. If Facebook is required to police content that appears on its service, it is a very short step to requiring Amazon to police content of the books it sells.

PG absolutely condemns all violent acts committed by one person against another.

PG also notes that one person’s “hate speech and other problematic content” can be another person’s call for an end to injustice or a legitimate expression of personal and political opinion.

“I hate Donald Trump!”

“I hate Hillary Clinton!”

“I hate Republicans!”

“I hate Democrats!”

“I hate Ho Chi Minh!”

“I hate Lyndon Johnson!”

“I hate Joseph Stalin!”

“I hate Franklin Delano Roosevelt!”

“I hate King George III!”

PG also notes that politicians whose duties include protecting the citizenry from the violent acts of others are quick to shift the blame when violent acts occur.

“No true New Zealander would ever commit such violent acts without the influence of social media!”

“If we could just get rid of opinions that differ from those of the ruling class, peace would finally return to this country.”

PG believes the solution to bad speech is good speech, not less speech.

United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis counseled, in his opinion in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927):

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

. . . .

Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

. . . .

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

Finally, from a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Speech, Privacy and Technology Project:

By constitutional design, ours is a world where homophobic street preachers have a right to accost you at a funeral for a loved one; where avowed racists can bring a Nazi rally to your town; where Congress has no right to criminalize appalling images of animal violence.

I suspect that many students would like to be able to effectively counter-protest the Westboro Baptist Church. Or effortlessly dismantle the racist garbage spewed by today’s alt-right. Or publicize and advocate against animal cruelty. I sure hope they do! Because we need them to tackle public policy issues with the confidence of a generation determined to better us all.

That means being an advocate: speaking out and convincing others. Confronting, hearing and countering offensive speech with which we disagree is a skill. And one that should be considered a core requirement at any school worth its salt.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that free speech is without grave costs. I cannot imagine the pain that Holocaust survivors felt knowing that the KKK would march through their towns, or the anguish a grieving father felt when his son’s funeral was surrounded by the petty signage of hate.

On campus, if and when speech crosses the line into targeted harassment or threats, or creates a pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students, it isn’t protected. We fortunately have federal laws to ensure safe learning environments and equal access for all students. But being offended does not rise to that level. We live in an odd country, where the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights protects that hateful speech until it crosses that line.

But that same First Amendment also protects the most heart-swelling markers of our democracy: the right to speak our values, to have a press free from censorship, to gather en masse in the streets and speak truth to power. Our Constitution protects hateful speech, yes — but on the theory that truly free speech means the best ideas will win out. We need students trained to really listen to ideas they hate — and respond with better ones.

In that regard, recent incidents suggest that colleges are fundamentally failing their students in imparting these skills. In just the past few weeks, from one campus to another and another and another, liberal students have silenced conservative speakers with violence, outrage and threats. This collection of hecklers’ vetoes is the farthest thing from a victory for the progressive causes these students champion.

These incidents have not shut down a single bad idea. To the contrary, they’ve given their opponents’ ideas credence by adding the power of martyrdom. When you choose censorship as your substantive argument, you lose the debate. Because none of us are the wiser about the better world those protesting students want to see — instead of telling us, they silenced others. In curricular terms: They didn’t do the assignment.

Link to the rest at Inside Sources


11 thoughts on “Australia Proposes Fines, Jail Time for Social Media Executives Who Fail to Remove Violent Content”

  1. Two words come to mind. Luddite and Megalomaniac. Australian politicians seem to be both. They suffer not only from a lack of understanding of the Internet but from the delusion that they can exercise control over it. And, of course, that they have the right and the wisdom to brand something as hate speech or problematic and ban it.

  2. It’s an interesting problem. Social Media present new challenges. They are really not ‘media’ so much as a conduit for exchange of information, which includes propaganda and incitements to riot, etc. It will be interesting to see how Zuckerberg’s call for government to ‘step in and help’ goes over. Seems like a social media CEO shirking responsibility?

    • “Seems like a social media CEO shirking responsibility?”

      Dead on. This way any blocking – or anything getting through – is someone else’s fault. And as an added bonus the government does all the work and he collects all the profits.

      They call that a ‘win-win’ …

      • I think Zuck recognized a lose-lose actually, and then put it to the government(s)to define it. Until there is a common definition of what is illegal and what is not, it’s a law that carries great penalties while at the same time being unenforceable.

        FB is world-wide. If someone posts something that fits the definition of hate-speech in one country, and it’s then reposted in several others before it being discovered and taken down, the horse has left the barn. Especially if those countries all have different definitions of hate-speech. Does FB go by the law as it’s applied to the original poster? Or does each poster get a different definition applied?

        We already have a two-tiered justice system here in the US, imagine one with over 195 that you had to abide by or face jail time. They are demanding something without understanding what it is they are demanding.

  3. I find it ironic that those high-flung ideals about liberty were expressed by Founding Fathers (and I do mean Fathers) who countenanced the ownership of other humans while expounding on the virtues of freedom and the pursuit of happiness. It ties in nicely with the short story about those undisturbed with Chinese authorities controlling the lives of others—because it hardly touches them.

  4. While I disagree with the proposed law, straw man arguments don’t actually help discourse. Unattributed statements like “No true New Zealander would ever commit such violent acts without the influence of social media!”, which is unlikely to have been said given the shooter was Australian, likely to cause more polarisation than discourse.

    • Ben – I apologize if my comment was unclear.

      “No true New Zealander” was a back-handed reference to the logical fallacy sometimes called, “No true Scotsman”.

      Here’s a bit more context. British philosopher Antony Flew is credited with giving the fallacy a name, because the term originally appeared in Flew’s 1971 book An Introduction to Western Philosophy.

      “Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again”. Hamish is shocked and declares that “No _Scotsman_ would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: “No _true_ Scotsman would do such a thing.”

  5. Late to the party, but just let me add this:

    “Australia Proposes Fines, Jail Time for Social Media Executives Who Fail to Remove Violent Content”

    Hey, Australia, why not block all ‘Violent Content’?

    You can start with Disney and ESPN as many sports are violent and have you seen what that rabbit does to the duck?

    (Brought on by an aunt not understanding that flipping the ‘no violence’ tab meant no Disney on her parental blocking software. 😉 )

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