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AP Explains: How strict Australian social media law works

FILE - In this Monday, March 25, 2019, file photo, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discusses a top-level inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the massacre in two Christchurch mosques on March 15, during a press conference in Wellington, New Zealand. Australia's Parliament has passed legislation that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream real violence such as the New Zealand shootings. (AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia hopes its new laws that threaten prison and major fines for social media executives who fail to quickly remove streamed violence from their platforms will become a model for other countries.

The government has described its response to the March 15 gun massacre in which an Australian allegedly killed 50 Muslims in New Zealand as a world-first in legislating the conduct of social media and online platforms.

Critics argue that global social media giants could pull out of Australia if other countries don’t adopt similar laws. There are also concerns the law could lead to media censorship and prevent whistleblowers from exposing atrocities.

Here is a look at the legislation and the problems it hopes to overcome:

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THE AFTERMATH OF THE NEW ZEALAND MASSACRE

A white supremacist apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live on Facebook as he shot worshippers in Christchurch mosques. Facebook livestreamed the massacre for 17 minutes without interruption before reacting. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings during the first 24 hours afterward. The government argues that social media companies need to do more to exclude such content. The sharing of the video between online users that followed the livestreaming is not covered by the law.

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HOW DOES SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM SUCH AS FACEBOOK COMMIT A CRIME

Internet service providers and providers of hosting services or content have committed a crime if they fail to remove “abhorrent violent material expeditiously.” The material has to be accessible from Australia. “Abhorrent violent material” is defined as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping. The material must he recorded by the perpetrator of the crime or an accomplice for the law to apply.

The definition excludes sports such as boxing, medical procedures, and sexual acts that are violent but consensual. The material can be audiovisual, solely audio, or solely visual. It can be livestreamed or recorded and can include still images taken from video. “Expeditiously” is not defined. That would be decided by a jury. The crime would be punishable by three years in prison and a 2.1 million Australian dollar ($1.5 million) fine for an individual. Corporations can be fined AU$10.5 million ($7.5 million) or 10% of the platform’s annual turnover, whichever amount is larger.

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ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS?

There are legal defenses where the material relates to a news report that is in the public interest, a court proceeding, research or an artistic work. The attorney general has the discretion to prevent prosecutions considered inappropriate. The government argues the operations of traditional media are unlikely to be effected.

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