The terrorist attacks that took place in Christchurch on 15 March 2019 shocked the world. Citizens and governments alike questioned how the mass murder of 51 men, women and children could take place in a peaceful, democratic country like New Zealand. In the hours and days that followed, it became apparent that the internet was exploited to amplify the crimes. The alleged perpetrator livestreamed the murders on Facebook and from there, the video quickly spread, with individuals attempting to upload copies on mainstream and smaller digital platforms and websites.
Condemnation of the acts, and of the use of online platforms in disseminating this content, was swift. On 26 March 2019, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, chaired a Summit in Brisbane to discuss Australian Government and industry responses to the sharing of content related to the Christchurch terrorist attack. The Summit brought together representatives from the major digital platforms, Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the heads of relevant Government agencies, along with the Attorney-General, the then Minister for Communications and the Arts and the Minister for Home Affairs.
In this forum, the Government made clear that the community expected more from the digital platforms and that it wanted to see industry bring forward concrete measures to prevent extreme violent content from being disseminated so readily on their services. A key outcome of the Summit was the establishment of the Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online (the Taskforce). Comprising government and industry representatives, the objective of the Taskforce was to provide advice to Government on practical, tangible and effective measures and commitments to combat the upload and dissemination of terrorist and extreme violent material.
This report provides that advice. It identifies actions and recommendations that fall into one of five streams: prevention; detection and removal; transparency; deterrence; and capacity building. These actions and recommendations build on and extend the commitments already made by industry and Government following the attacks, including changes by individual firms to the operation of their services. They are also consistent with principles contained within the Christchurch Call to Action.
Ultimately, the Government will assess whether the actions detailed in this report represent a sufficient step forward in terms of ensuring the safety of Australians online. The Government has made clear that it is willing to consider regulatory options where the voluntary commitments put forward by industry fall short of the mark. This reflects a growing consensus internationally that the internet should not be a forum or tool for the proliferation of harmful content, and that more needs to be done — particularly by the larger and well-resourced digital platforms — to make the internet a safer place.
A number of countries, including Australia, have strongly advocated for international cooperation on this issue through various multilateral fora. Consistent with the Christchurch Call to Action, the Australian Government is working internationally and through the actions agreed, including through this taskforce, to drive concrete initiatives on preventing terrorist and violent extremist exploitation of the internet.
There is clearly an appetite, in Australia and overseas, for tangible, concrete measures to tackle the upload and spread of terrorist and extreme violent material online. Whether these fora and the parallel commitments to action from industry can deliver on this outcome will become clearer over the coming months.