Blocking the viral spread of terrorist content online

Australians will be protected from horrific material posted online to promote terrorist acts following a landmark protocol that has been agreed by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner and internet service providers (ISPs).

The protocol will be activated following an “online crisis event” and will require ISPs, at the Commissioner’s direction, to block access to websites that are hosting graphic material that depicts a terrorist act or violent crime and seeks to promote similar acts.

“The Christchurch terror attacks taught us that we cannot be complacent in the face of the willingness of terrorists to exploit the internet to traumatise the community and incite further heinous acts,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

“In a free society such as ours, the threshold for blocking websites must be extremely high. However, the community has a right to be protected from material that could go viral, causing enormous harm, particularly to children or those who may be vulnerable to radicalisation.”

The protocol, which was created by eSafety and Communications Alliance — an organisation representing Australia’s communications sector, including the nation’s six largest ISPs — defines an “online crisis event” as one that: follows a terrorist act or violent crime; involves the rapid dissemination of material in a manner likely to cause significant harm to the community; and warrants a rapid, coordinated and decisive response by industry and government.

To meet the threshold for blocking, the material must be content that promotes, incites or instructs in terrorist acts or violent crimes. Blocking directions will be issued for a period of time, on a case-by-case basis. 

The protocol is the second to follow the recommendations of the Taskforce to Combat  Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online established following the Christchurch attacks. The first protocol enabled ISPs to continue blocking eight websites hosting the video and manifesto produced by the alleged perpetrator, which otherwise had the potential to spread virally.

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