To prevent a repeat of Christchurch, websites hosting violent videos could be blocked - Science - ABC News

Mar 27, 2020 2:25 AM
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A new deal with internet providers aims to stop terrorism videos like the one in Christchurch from going viral.


Websites that host graphic material following a terror attack may be blocked by internet providers under a new protocol unveiled today.

  • Australian internet providers will block websites hosting graphic terrorist videos following an 'online crisis event'
  • The new protocol is the latest attempt to control violent videos following the Christchurch terror attack

The move aims to prevent violent content like the Christchurch shooting video, which was first live streamed on Facebook, from spreading widely online.

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and other telecommunication providers may be told to cut off access when an "online crisis event" takes place.

This will be directed by eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant, who said a high threshold must be reached before a website can be blocked.

The new guidelines aim to control damaging material with the potential to go viral after an incident such as a terror attack.

"It's like stemming a wound," she said. "You want to stem it right when it happens."

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the protocol was "an important new mechanism that will help keep Australians safe online".

"Now we have a framework in place to enable a rapid, coordinated and decisive response to contain the rapid spread of terrorist or extreme violent material," he said.

Protocol to be used during 'online crisis incident'

The protocol was created by the eSafety Commissioner's office and the Communications Alliance, which represents the country's telecommunication industry.

John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, said there was "no shortage of shared desire" by government and industry to see the rules put in place.

"It's harmful to Australians and it's potentially advantageous to terrorist groups."

Immediately following the Christchurch attack, internet providers in Australia blocked around 40 websites where the terrorist's video and manifesto were available.

This was done by the companies without a coordinated government approach, Mr Stanton said, potentially leaving them open to legal action.

"This protocol tidies it up," he said.

According to the new guidelines, an "online crisis event" occurs when an act of terrorism or violent crime takes place, and material depicting or promoting that incident is shared quickly online.

To be blocked, the material must be likely to cause significant harm to the community by causing trauma or be content that "promotes, incites or instructs in terrorist acts or violent crimes", among other considerations.

Sites will typically be blocked for around five days, in an attempt to curtail the material going viral.

Companies like Telstra may be called on to block websites hosting terrorist videos. (AAP: Joel Carrett, file photo)

Critics say 'abhorrent content' laws remain flawed

The new site-blocking rulebook is only the latest move by the Government to target violent material online.

Immediately following the Christchurch terror attack, the Australian Government passed legislation making online platforms liable if they do not quickly remove "abhorrent" videos and images.

The laws were criticised at the time as rushed and flawed.

In Mr Stanton's view, "it was and is bad legislation" that should be amended.


He said the "abhorrent material" laws continue to create uncertainty both for digital platforms like Facebook and internet service providers (ISPs).

"ISPs can be placed in a situation where it's uncertain if they're meant to do proactive monitoring of the content that appears on their networks," he said.

Ms Inman Grant said her office had been given globally unprecedented powers to police the abhorrent violent material legislation, among its other duties.

"This is the last major piece … of the provisions that have come out of Christchurch," she said of the new protocol.

"It will be good to have this all in place and be able to use them effectively in the event of another online crisis."

The Government plans to legislatively back the new protocol as part of a forthcoming Online Safety Act.