NZ Super responds to Australian social media laws

NZ Super, which has been active in calling for action on social media companies following the streaming of the Christchurch terror attacks, has responded to new laws passed in Australia.

The laws, passed last week, mean that executives of social media companies could theoretically face prison time if their company does not act expeditiously to remove abhorrent violent material.

They also state that social media platforms internationally must notify the Australian Federal Police if they become aware of any abhorrent violent material on their platform and failure to do this will be punishable fines of up to $168,000 for an individual or $840,000 for an organisation.

The laws define abhorrent violent material as content depicting violent acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape or kidnapping. They do not define expeditiously, or provide an acceptable timeframe for content to be removed.

NZ Super has been vocal in calling for stronger controls on social media content in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.

The fund has been critical in establishing a group of 23 New Zealand investors - with a total of NZD$800 billion in funds under management - putting pressure on social media companies to strengthen controls to stop something like the streaming of the attacks from happening again.

NZ Super's head of responsible investment Anne-Maree O'Connor said in response to the new Australian laws: "Regulation is a response to situations where companies have abused their social licence to operate."

"As our chief executive said in our initial statement announcing our engagement initiative, companies need to fulfil their duty of care to prevent harm to their users and to society.

"These companies' social license to operate has been severely damaged. Companies need to take more responsibility for what is published on their platforms, and must take action to prevent this sort of material being uploaded and shared on social media.

"When they don't take sufficient action, regulation comes quickly. Investors will be paying more attention to the regulatory risks and backlash surrounding this issue."

The passing of the laws has been broadly criticised by the Australian business and law communities.

Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses said: "Media freedom and whistleblowing of atrocities here and overseas have been put at risk by the ill-informed livestream laws passed by the Federal Parliament."

"The Law Council is disappointed and concerned these 'world-first laws', which were rammed through in 24 hours without scrutiny and consultation, will have negative unintended consequences.

"We now have a situation where important news can be censored across social media platforms, which is contrary to the democratic principle of a free press, which exists to hold governments to account.

"While the Law Council agrees that action needs to be taken in this area, consultation was required. These laws should have been subject to the committee process."

Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes tweeted upon the passing of the laws: "Sad to report the poor, rushed legislation covering 'Streamed Terrorism' passed both houses just now - despite objections from bodies as diverse as NewsCorp, the tech industry and the Law Council (three who rarely agree). Another sad day for Aus tech and government."

The other co-founder and co-chief executive of Atlassian, Scott Farquhar, tweeted: "It applies to 'internet service providers, content services and hosting services' - IE every company that allows file uploads on the internet. This is NOT about social media companies. It's literally every website with user generated content."

Read more: MediaNZ SuperNOTChristchurchAtlassianRegulationLaw Council of AustraliaAnne-Maree O'ConnorArthur MosesAustralian Federal PoliceFederal ParliamentMike Cannon-BrookesNewsCorpNew ZealandScott FarquharStreamed Terrorism
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