Grant Robertson confirms Government pushing for global action on social media companies

News 23/04/2019

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has confirmed the Government is discussing a social media crackdown with global partners, with an announcement expected soon.

In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack and a livestream of the shootings, there were calls for world leaders to enforce regulation that ensures social media companies are held accountable for harmful content on their sites.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged work needed to be done so "horrendous" content wasn't spread and said the Government was looking to what other countries were doing.

What we're looking to is whether or not there's a global appetite for us to move collectively.

"We've offered to keep exchanging ideas, but at this stage, I'm in the process of seeing what other countries have done and what might be possible," she said earlier this month.

But Robertson confirmed to The AM Show on Tuesday that the Government was talking with global partners to present a united front to the technology companies.

"In the days following the attacks, the calls the Prime Minister was getting from world leaders, they were asking her 'what can we do' and I know she was having conversations with them saying 'we all need to come together and present a united front to these tech companies'," he said.

"I think you will hear something fairly soon... I know the Prime Minister has been working hard on that... It is something we are really committed to."

While Government officials also looked at our domestic legislative framework, Robertson said a global response was necessary due to the international reach of the internet.

I think it is really important that we look at this as a global issue.

"As a small country, New Zealand is never going to be able, on our own, to turn big multinational countries around.

"Frankly, the posting of videos and the rules that they put in place have to be global, because it doesn't actually matter where someone posts it, the beauty of the internet is that you have access to things from all around the world. But the damage is that that can get through so quickly."

He said arguments by social media companies that they are just "postmen" of content weren't accurate, and instead they are publishers and should be held to the same standards as media outlets.

"Once you have that as your principle, you can then work from there and say there are rules for publishing."

What action the Government and global partners may implement is not yet known, but Robertson said it was important to also recognise that social media was a vital part of day-to-day lives.

A black-out, similar to what has been seen in Sri Lanka following the bombing attacks there on Sunday, is unlikely.

"Social media does provide positive things. It connects people up, it has given us a lot of social movements around the world which are really positive."

I don't think a blanket ban is a long-term answer.

A livestream of the Christchurch attacks spread across the internet after the shootings. While Facebook said it removed more than 1.5 million copies of the video within 24 hours, there are reports of it being seen online for days after the event.

Days after the attacks, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote to the G20 chairman, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, asking for social media reform to be a top priority at the next annual meeting of world leaders.

"It is imperative that the global community works together to ensure that technology firms meet their moral obligation to protect the communities which they serve and from which they profit," he wrote, in a letter shared to Twitter.

Australia also pushed ahead with legislation to introduce jail terms and fines for social media providers that didn't act to remove violent material quickly.

Under Australia's proposed laws, offences would be punishable by three years' jail for executives of social media companies, or fines that could reach up to 10 percent of the platform's global annual turnover.

The United Kingdom also proposed introducing an independent watchdog to write a code of practise for technology companies.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor