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Sense and censorship in social media crackdown

  • 03 April 2019


Things are not looking good of late regarding internet freedoms and those venturing to use them. On 26 March, the European Parliament approved the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market despite the calls of over five million online petitioners and the voices of over a hundred thousand protesters. The directive proposes to impose a fee on news aggregators displaying small sections or portions of linked news stories. Most contentious of all, Article 13 imposes obligations on online content platforms to ensure any uploaded media does not infringe copyright.

Last week also saw the Australian government insist on social media platforms becoming assiduous gatekeepers, ever mindful of removing inappropriate, harmful and 'abhorrent violent material' that might be uploaded. Last week's Brisbane summit between the Morrison cabinet with Facebook and other social media platform employees, which sought to address new means of regulation, did not impress. The government had, in the words of Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield, attempted to explain 'that the rules and laws and the norms that apply to the physical world should also apply to the online world'.

Facebook staff present at the meeting responded with the claim that its artificial intelligence mechanisms to detect such streams of material were well honed; any changes would be considered by those in higher management back in Silicon Valley. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's cabinet was irate: why did they not send over the appropriate mandarins for the occasion?

In an interview with radio station 2GB, Senator Fifield said he felt the tech giants were 'too slow to remove the material [of the Christchurch shooting] once it was drawn to their attention'. For Fifield, such matters are simple things that could be rectified by legislation. And what could too slow be defined as? Facebook, for instance, did remove shared material of the alleged Christchurch shooter within the first 24 hours. The initial stream was viewed 4000 times within the first hour before it was removed. That speed, according to Attorney General Christian Porter, had been 'totally unreasonable'.

The incentive being proposed by the Morrison government is one of punishment through fines and imprisonment. If material such as 'the live streaming of mass murder, terrorism, kidnap or rape' were drawn to the attention of the platforms 'and they don't remove it as soon as possible, then that would be an offence'.

Mark Zuckerberg issued both a riposte and an appeal on the weekend in the Washington Post. As