Penalties for extremist social media content needs further thought

Digital Rights Watch have today warned that proposed laws that would make it a criminal offence for social media companies to leave videos filmed by terrorists on their sites require more consultation to ensure they work effectively.  

The Government announced the proposed new laws in the wake of the Christchurch attacks, where livestream videos of the attack were broadcast on social media platforms.

“Whilst it is understandable that the Government want to act in response to such a heinous terrorist attack, this is a policy area that requires much more than a quickly drafted pre-election promise,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Tim Singleton Norton.

“Poorly designed and vaguely worded criminal intermediary liability rules are not the right approach, which the Government would know if it had taken the time to  consult properly.”

“This approach has been tried before, and has proven to be both ineffective and dangerous. In 2012, an Italian court struck down the criminal convictions of Google executives on charges of violating Italian privacy laws over the removal of videos hosted online.”

“Of course we must ensure that content designed to terrorise is not disseminated and spread, but this must also come with protections for due process and legitimate speech. The public needs to have confidence that the processes in use by both government and social media companies to identify, decide and take down content is in the public best interest.”

“Harsh criminal penalties for service providers will not make us safer, and they create dangerous incentives for platforms to remove legitimate expression. It is usually minority groups and vulnerable populations who suffer the most from overly broad censorship,” said Mr Singleton Norton.