- Date published:
1:45 am, April 10th, 2019 - 73 comments
Categories: australian politics, Dirty Politics, International, jacinda ardern, Media, Politics - Tags: facebook, hate crime, hate speech, privacy commissioner, semi-automatics, social media
The government has been rightly lauded for swiftly acting to ban assault weapons after the Christchurch massacre, but is its failure to decisively call social media giants to order is as weak and unacceptable as was the failure to respond decisively to the Aramoana massacre back in 1990?
There were massive calls after Aramoana to sort out the madness of selling assault weapons but despite report after report recommending a ban, our politicians unacceptably succumbed to the gun lobby.
That frightful decision cost 51 people their lives and changed our social fabric.
Both Australia and the UK, each led by conservative, socially backward governments, are forging ahead with strict new laws regulating social media companies that will hold companies and, importantly, their executives, to account for such things as the livestreaming of killings.
Our government is procrastinating just as the National government did after Aramoana.
We have had some great leadership on this issue by Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, who has, described those in charge of the major social platforms as ‘morally bankrupt pathological liars‘ who cannot be trusted.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has won much kudos for her overall leadership in the aftermath of Christchurch, has failed to lead in this instance.
She has called for the international community to work together.
“What we’re looking to is whether or not there’s a global appetite for us to move collectively,” she said. “But at this stage I’m in the process of seeing what other countries have done and what might be possible.”
Ardern acknowledged Aotearoa had a responsibility around social media restrictions after Christchurch. She said live streaming had been used in a way it had not been used before, but actually it was only the scale of the atrocity that was new. Gruesome beheadings by ISIS and the like showed us some time ago how the application could be abused.
The UK is proposed to establish an independent watchdog that would create a “code of practice” to regulate technology giants, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Regulator will have the power to fine companies for breaking rules and the ability to fine executives and block websites.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pushed ahead with plans to introduce jail terms and massive fines for social media providers that don’t act on removing violent material quickly enough.
Under Australia’s proposed laws, offences would be punishable by three years’ jail for executives of social media companies, or fines that could reach up to 10% of the platform’s global annual turnover.
Ardern is sceptical similar legislation will help and believes global action would be more effective. She said European laws that required companies to remove illegal content with 24 hours, or face fines of up to €50 million (NZ$84 million) would not have addressed the live streaming problem of Christchurch.
This response is similar to our passive response to the same global giants (and many others) avoiding paying their fair share of tax by using tax havens. While New Zealand has chosen to wait forever for the OECD to propose concerted action, countries like the UK are protecting themselves through unilateral action.
Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg refuses to make changes to livestreaming because Facebook would lose a revenue stream. In would interfere with the “interactivity” of live streaming, he said. Such argument has as little validity as those of gun enthusiasts who claim there an inalienable right to carry what weapons they like.
As well as been criticised for not doing enough to police hate speech in Myanmar, Facebook’s platform has been at the centre of claims it was used by Russia to meddle in elections, included the 2016 US election that astonishingly bought the moronic Donald Trump to power.
The Privacy Commissioner says Facebook’s attempts to self-regulation fall far short. “That is not good enough,” according to Edwards said. Governments needed to “force the platforms to find a solution” to the problem of livestreaming which have seen slayings as suicides and rapes streamed.
Unless companies could demonstrate the safety of their services, they simply shouldn’t be allowed to use them, he said.
Australia’s new law, rammed through this month, makes it a crime for social media platforms not to quickly remove “abhorrent violent material“.
The crime would be punishable by three years in prison and a fine of $A10.5 million, or 10% of the platform’s annual turnover, whichever is larger.
The Digital Industry Group Inc — an association representing the digital industry in Australia including Facebook, Google and Twitter — said taking down abhorrent content was a “highly complex.”
Funny how Google, Facebook and the like can solve complex algorithms when they want to but find it too difficult when they don’t want to.
Ardern for once is out of step with most kiwis on this issue. An overwhelming majority of New Zealanders would back a crackdown on social media companies, according to a UMR Research poll of 1000 adults, commissioned by ActionStation Aotearoa.
Some 86% agreed that “the government should require social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to take more responsibility to prevent distribution of harmful content on their platforms.”
Action Station spokesman Leroy Beckett said it hopes to pivot attention from the regulation of guns to regulation of social platforms.
“We are hoping this showing of public support gives the government the confidence to move forward with new rules for social media companies that protect people online,” he said.
Such regulation of the internet will never be straightforward. Singapore’s draft legislation introduced this month plans to restrict false and misleading information, which would clearly have Trump where he belongs before lunch, but might be problematic in the socially restrictive island state. India is also planning broad new powers that could well curtail free speech, while the EU is debating a new terrorism content measure that some have warned is overly broad and will harm free expression.
Zuckerberg believes governments and not companies should be the definers of what is acceptable and in light of their failure to self regulate, he is certainly correct.
“New regulations are needed so that we have a standardised approach across platforms and private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone,” the company said in a statement.
The problem is that the internet is such a fast-changing behemoth that it is virtually impossible for any government to keep track of content. The British approach that calls for the creation of a mandatory “duty of care” standard “to make companies take responsibility for the safety of their users and to tackle harm caused by content or activity on their service,” seems sensible.
The likes of Facebook and Google have, with dire consequences, failed to self-regulate so society, through our governments should put the risk back onto them. Make them construct the checks and balances before they allow an application such as livestreaming that can be so abused as we had in Christchurch.
“Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough,” said Jeremy Wright, Britain’s Digital Secretary, said. “Technology can be an incredible force for good and we want the sector to be part of the solution in protecting their users. However, those that fail to do this will face tough action.”
The previous government has rightly been criticised for not wanting to lead on climate change but how this government responds to Christchurch may well be defining for this government. It’s not the time to be a follower, it’s time to lead.
(Simon Louisson reported for The Wall Street Journal, AP Dow Jones Newswires, New Zealand Press Association and Reuters and has been a political and media adviser to the Green Party.)