Australia Plans to Block Domains That Host Terrorist Material During Crisis Situations

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at an event in Sydney in May 2019.
Photo: Rick Rycroft (AP)

Australia laid out some of the country’s first concrete steps to make good on its promise of combating the spread of extremism online at this year’s G7 leader’s forum, Reuters reported Sunday. Officials said the government intends to cut off all access to any internet domain that fails to block terrorist material during a crisis event, and legislation requiring online platforms to upgrade their safety measures is also being considered.

“We are doing everything we can to deny terrorists the opportunity to glorify their crimes,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, per Reuters.

These measures come in the wake of a terrorist attack in March that killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand. The tragedy was livestreamed on Facebook, with the footage quickly spreading to other online platforms that, in turn, hurried to shut it down. The incident prompted increased scrutiny from both Australia and New Zealand about how these platforms moderate their content.

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Officials said they’re establishing a framework to enable them to block access to domains hosting extremist violence, a decision which would be determined by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner on a case-by-case basis. Hosting material “showing murder, attempted murder, rape, torture, or kidnapping” recorded by someone involved in the act, per Reuters, would also trigger a government block on that domain. To help police this new policy, the country plans to establish a 24/7 Crisis Coordination Centre to suss out such material online.

This announcement marks one of the first major moves towards actualizing the promises made in the “Christchurch Call” issued back in May. Then, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched the non-binding initiative asking for “enhanced cooperation” among international leaders to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

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Five of the biggest names in tech and 18 governments endorsed this statement, but in a bizarre twist, the U.S. decided to sit this one out. The Trump administration cited First Amendment concerns in a letter to the Washington Post, despite the call being non-binding, and argued that “productive speech” and “credible, alternative narratives” were the best defense against the spread of extremist content online. As to what exactly that entails is anyone’s guess.

[Reuters]

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Alyse Stanley

Nights and weekend reporter, Gizmodo.