For immediate release | Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tech & Terrorism: Australia Begins Enforcing its Online Extremist Content Law

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Media at CEP

Tech Companies Can No Longer Rely On False Claims

(New York, N.Y.) - Australia has ordered five websites to remove extremist material, in an move to enforce its new law to combat online extremism. The content consisted of videos showing the beheading of a Scandinavian tourist in Morocco and the Christchurch attacks. The new law holds social media companies, websites, and Internet service providers liable for fines of up to 10 percent of their annual global turnover if they fail to promptly remove the offending material. Company executives could face possible jail time for non-compliance.

“Since Australia passed the legislation in April, the tech industry has demagogued the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of extremist content online. Tech has continued to promote the same ominous arguments, claiming that the new legislation will hinder free speech, lead to over-blocking material, and stifle innovation,” said Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen. “Following the law’s implementation, however, the tech industry should be forced to provide clear evidence to support its claims that the measure definitively leads to a systematic, catastrophic scenario where users’ free speech is violated and the tech industry ceases to develop.”

CEP has seen this pattern of behavior play out before when Germany passed its NetzDG law, which fines online platforms for failures to delete illegal hate speech and went into effect in 2018. Tech companies criticized the German legislation and also argued that smaller firms would not be able to afford to comply and that content would be over-blocked as a result. However, an investigation on the NetzDG’s impact conducted by CEP and the Centre For European Policy Studies (CEPS) found no evidence of over-blocking, false positives, or burdensome compliance costs related to the law.

As Ibsen stated in a joint op-ed at the time, “In reality, concerns that NetzDG would lead to censorship have proven unfounded. Its introduction has precipitated a trickle rather than a flood of reports. Research by the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has uncovered no further evidence of false positives and shows that three quarters of reports are not upheld by social media companies. There have been no fines imposed on companies and little change in overall takedown rates (21.2% for Facebook and 10.8% for Twitter).”

None of these cataclysms materialized in Germany, and the tech industry can no longer rely on such claims—in Australia or elsewhere—that have failed to materialize.