Can Australia purge violent content from the web without harming free speech?

Can Australia purge violent content from the web without harming free speech?

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Courtesy: Facebook
Courtesy: Facebook

Why should politicians look in the mirror to spot hate speech and incitement, when there are wealthy tech companies to blame?

UNITED NATIONS – The Australian parliament rushed through legislation this week setting out stiff fines for social media companies that fail to remove “abhorrent violent material” from their platforms.

That law aims to stop a repeat of what happened last month in Christchurch, New Zealand, when a gunman killed 50 people at a pair of mosques and live-streamed the attack on Facebook Live.

Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says it shouldn’t be a surprise the Christchurch shooter was able to use technology to further spread his terror.

“There’s a problem that companies like Facebook have, which is that they’ve built out tools – in this case Facebook Live –that have exceeded their ability to moderate these tools. Really they need to prioritize public safety and stopping hate and violence over the next idea they come up with to make profit.”

But Fernandez and others worry about how internet platforms will respond to the new law and the risks to free speech that could ensue.

Nicolas Suzor is an associate professor of law at Queensland University of Technology.

“You only have to think either live-streaming of computer games that look quite realistic or much more problematically, say, the live-streaming of the Philando Castile shooting on Facebook, which was important information to be able to document and to get out.”

Suzor thinks counting on algorithms to ever discern between video of a murder and a cop killing an innocent civilian may be impossible, and while he concedes there are lessons to be learned from the Christchurch attack, he thinks they’re a bit more difficult for lawmakers to swallow.

“The government here has been complicit in stoking the fires of hate for political gain over many decades. The mainstream media has also been complicit in driving attention to hate groups and violent content.”

Why should politicians look in the mirror to spot hate speech, when there are wealthy tech companies to blame?

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