Signage is displayed outside Facebook Inc. headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Australia, Singapore Crack Down on Online Media With New Laws

(Bloomberg) -- Governments in the Asia Pacific region are accelerating efforts to fight malicious use of online media, unveiling laws that make it easier to target websites which enable distribution of criminal or fraudulent content.

Australia said it will legislate “tough” new laws to prevent social-media platforms from being “weaponized” by terrorists and extremists who may use them to live-stream violent crimes, such as this month’s terror attack in New Zealand. Singapore said it will introduce a law to halt the spread of “fake news.”

Facebook Inc. came under sharp criticism for not taking down a video in which the alleged gunman killed 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch fast enough, and for allowing it be circulated across the internet and uploaded to platforms like YouTube. The social-media company was considering placing restrictions on who could post live videos in the wake of the shooting that was filmed and disseminated in real time.

“Social media companies, like Facebook, which met with the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, myself” and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton “earlier this week did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch,” Australia’s Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said in a statement Saturday.

The new legislation would be introduced into parliament next week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in the press release. New offences will incur penalties of up 10 percent of a company’s annual turnover and potential prison sentences for executives of social-media companies that fail to act to remove abhorrent violent material from their platforms, Attorney-General Christian Porter said in the statement.

Singapore, meanwhile, said its new law will give more power to the government to hold online outlets accountable if they’re deemed to have deliberately delivered false news.
The measures will include requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods, and even removing articles in extreme cases, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech.

The city-state lashed out at Facebook last year, calling the company unreliable after it declined a request to remove a post that linked the premier and Singapore with allegations related to embattled Malaysian state fund 1MDB. The government said then that Facebook’s decision to not remove malicious information on the country shows the need for legislation.

The amendments to the Australian legislation would be modeled on existing offences in the Criminal Code, which require platforms to notify police if their service is being used to access child pornography, the attorney general said.

“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,” Porter said.

The bill will include new provisions to deal with the showing of “abhorrent violent material” produced by a perpetrator, and which plays or live-streams the worst types of offences, according to the statement. It will cover the playing or streaming of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping on social media.

It will include two new sets of offences:

  • It will be a criminal offence for social-media platforms not to remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously. This will be punishable by three years’ imprisonment or fines that can reach up to 10 percent of the platform’s annual turnover.
  • Platforms anywhere in the world must notify the Australian Federal Police if they become aware their service is streaming abhorrent violent conduct that is happening in Australia. Failure to do this will be punishable by fines of up to A$168,000 ($119,213) for an individual or A$840,000 for a corporation.

A new task force bringing the government and social-media companies together will work to deny terrorists the opportunity to use social media to foment hatred and violence, the prime minister said.

“These responses will form the basis of a model approach that Australia can take to the G20 to get our global partners on board to bring social media companies into our collective net of responsibility and accountability,” Morrison said. “We are already working to this end with our G20” and other partners, including New Zealand.

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