Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Australia by Night on Triple M Central West with Stephen Cenatiempo



Subjects: Social media live streaming laws

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well, you would have heard today that senior members of the Government met with representatives of the various social media platforms and online service providers to talk through issues about what can and can't go online these days. And obviously in the wake of the Christchurch massacre it's an important issue, but it's been an issue for ages and something we've talked about more often than not on this program. To talk us through what happened in the meeting today, the Attorney General, Christian Porter, is with us.

Attorney, good to have you on the programme.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Stephen, thanks for the invite.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Look, I don't envy you. Tell us, who was at this meeting today?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well there were a range of telcos, so Vodafone, Optus, Telstra, obviously the major social media platforms, Twitter, Facebook, Google and a range of other representatives from government and from the media sector. So it was a very large gathering and representing all of the places in which we upload and store and share information.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Did you go into the meeting with a clear objective as to what you wanted to achieve? Or was it was a feeling out exercise?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think very specifically the meeting was about some of the particular issues that have arisen out of the tragedy in Christchurch and of course there was a - something of a new and incredibly unwelcome development, which was that the actual perpetrator of this shocking violence in Christchurch himself recorded and live-streamed the act of terrorism and murder and that went up on to Facebook. It was viewed originally by a small group of people and then of course the video in effect goes viral, but our major and central concern - there are many - but the major and central concern was that in that set of circumstances, it appeared to take Facebook an incredibly long period of time to react and start to remove the content.

And it looked as if that was in effect over an hour, notwithstanding that the world kind of knew that this was going on much earlier than 60 minutes and in fact there was a formal complaint received into Facebook about the footage around the 29 minute mark. So there are range of issues and problems, but most specifically with respect to Christchurch the idea that the terrorist weaponises a social media platform in Facebook to distribute it and disseminate their terrorism, their fear, their violence and they do that in a way on a platform where the platform seems to have so little control or willingness to control their content that any child or any adult, for that matter, in Australia - a ten-year-old child - can access Facebook and all of a sudden they're witnessing mass murder which, if that occurred on a standard mainstream media outlet like yours or Channel Seven or whatever it might be, that's game over for them and that's likely a license-losing event. But there would be very, very serious penalties. So that was the major and central problem that we were dealing with.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Mr Porter, the question I would ask - and look, I congratulate the Government for taking a stand on this - but why did it take the death of 50 innocent people to get around to doing this? Because this was a problem we all knew was going to happen at some stage.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think that live-streaming was something that people had always had concerns about, and the reality is that there are documented examples - sadly and horrifically - of very serious criminal offending being live-streamed by the offenders, including serious sexual offences. So these are not problems that are unknown to YouTube or to Facebook, and certainly as a Government we've been aware of them. But like any of these emerging issues, it is very sadly often the case that there's one central event that crystallises the problems both in the mind of the people who are running the platforms, but also the public at large. So I know that people have seen these problems arise with social media. But there's something next level, obviously, about what happened in Christchurch.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: The concern I have, and look, you raise an interesting point - if it was on this - on the Triple M network or on one of the commercial television networks, it'd be game over. Do you have the legislative ability to put laws in place to make the social media and online platforms adhere to the same sort of codes that we do, but more importantly if you did put those frameworks in place, could you enforce them?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think that you'd have to do this in stages, because obviously the nature of social media platforms is different from radio and different again from television as we've traditionally understood it to operate. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it, and the first stage for us is to consider legislation which makes a very simple point which is that it should be unlawful to continue to stream acts of terrorism or murder or rape after you should be reasonably aware that your platform is hosting that content. And in effect we have similar laws to that already with respect to terrible content like child pornography, and if it is unlawful to have that content on your platform, why should it not similarly be unlawful to have a murder or a rape on your platform. So these laws are capable of being drafted and we are drafting them at the moment. But of course as the platform and the space evolves, you'll always need to consider further laws. But a very simple proposition that we would put is that it is unacceptable and should be unlawful to continue streaming an event like Christchurch after you have reasonably become aware that your platform is hosting that material.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Were the social media platforms and the online organisations receptive to these overtures from the Government?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think I can summarise it by saying particularly the big players, and Facebook in particular, acknowledge that they need to do much better than they are doing at the moment, both in taking down this type of violent content from their servers where they host the content, but also in identifying it at the very earliest stages, using both technological and algorithmic programs but also using human moderators responding to complaints. So there's an acknowledgement that they need to do much better.

But I must say, that in terms of how they specified that potential improvement to us and the processes that they might put in place, it was somewhat underwhelming. And Facebook is a multi-billion-dollar company with extremely large profits, where there is going to be an expectation that they would invest heavily in scrutinising and moderating their content so that we don't have a situation in Australia where a 10-year-old could log on to Facebook and see crimes of the most horrendous and violent types.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Is it physically possible to make them react or adhere to a certain set of guidelines in Australia that they might not have to adhere to in other parts of the world?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the criminal law can be established because of the fact that their content service shows content in Australia. It's always the case that there are going to be challenges for an Australian entity like the DPP or the Australian Federal Police to investigate, charge, and prosecute what may be a foreign company. But that's not a problem that we haven't encountered before. I mean, there've been a number of prosecutions against companies, including companies based overseas.

But the reality is that an overseas-based company, as a multinational which operates a large, profitable wing of its business in Australia, has to ensure that that Australian wing of its business observes and is subject to Australian law. So it's not without its difficulties, but it is quite possible to have a law that outlaws and makes illegal something where part of the offence occurs in Australia.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: And are there plans to take the discussions further, looking at things like online bullying and the anonymity that seems to go along with these platforms?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean you've put an observation that I would share, that at a root cause of a lot of the difficulties, and say for instance the disgusting comments that were made with respect to a post of a picture of a female AFL player, they arise out of anonymity. And of course, it's the case that you can get a Facebook page or a Google account without identifying yourself as you would if you went into a bank and opened a bank account. And that is a much larger and broader problem, but I think it's one that events like Christchurch - it's a problem that events like Christchurch - will bring much greater focus and attention on.

But the immediate problem that, as a Government we are trying to find a legislative solution to, is the simple point of fact that Facebook live-streamed a horrendous terrorist event involving the mass murder of innocent civilians. Live-streamed on its platform, allowed it to be viewed and replayed for in excess of 60 minutes without doing anywhere near enough to bring it down. And that, I think, would be something which would be completely unacceptable to most Australians.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Oh, no doubt about it. I just think it's flabbergasting that I could do a video here in the studio, and if I forget to turn the volume down, they'll pull it down within seconds because there's a song playing in the background that's copyright infringement. But for some reason, some bloke killing 50 innocent people can go - I don't know, I just can't get my head around it.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean, Facebook is a very large organisation that has a moral and social responsibility to its users, but also to the countries in which it offers its content service. And the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been very firmly of the view that this is an unacceptable situation and if they are unable to provide great comfort and assurance to Government that this won't happen again, then you have to legislate to make it unlawful to keep this content on your server beyond a reasonable period of time when you should have identified it.

And look, as I said earlier in this interview, you know, the world kind of came to know that this event was being live streamed on Facebook. It appears well before Facebook itself worked it out. And yet they're a multibillion-dollar company with hundreds of thousands of employees.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Extraordinary. So what's the next move?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the next move is to finalise drafting of legislation. There's one last sitting week for Parliament before a likely imminent election. So we would look to finalise some drafting around criminalising and making unlawful the type of situation that we saw with the live streaming of murderous content in Christchurch and bring that into Parliament in the final week of this sitting.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well, wish you the best of luck. Attorney-General Christian Porter, thanks for your time.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much, Stephen. Cheers, mate.