Australia's parliament has approved a new law that will hold social media companies criminally liable if they fail to quickly remove violent content from their websites.
According to the law, which passed overwhelmingly Thursday, social media companies would be fined 10 percent of their global annual turnover if material deemed "abhorrent violent material" is not taken down quickly, and its executives could face as much as three years in prison. Abhorrent violent material is defined as acts of murder, terrorism, torture or rape.
The legislation was drafted in response to the March 15 shooting deaths of 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which the suspected gunman, Australian white supremacist Brenton Harris Tarrant, livestreamed over Facebook. The footage was widely shared over the popular U.S.-based platform before it was taken down. Facebook said it removed as many as 1.5 million videos of the attacks in the first 24 hours afterward.
The new law was drafted and passed in the final days of the parliamentary session, prompting criticism by some lawmakers and digital advocates that it was rushed without proper hearings. Sunita Bose, the director of the Digital Industry Group, which represents Facebook, Google and Twitter, issued a statement saying the issue "is a highly complex problem that requires discussion" with technology and legal experts.
Arthur Moses, the head of the Australian Law Council, the nation's top lawyers' group, said the law could lead to some "unintended consequences," including media censorship and muzzling people from calling attention to various wrongdoing.