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After the New Zealand mosque shootings social media executives could be jailed under Australian law

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By Mark Armstrong  with Reuters
A police officer stands guard outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch
A police officer stands guard outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo   -  

Australia is to impose strict new laws on social media companies in the wake of the mosque shootings

in New Zealand that left 50 people dead.

Unless violent content is removed "expeditiously" the government will fine companies such as Facebook up to 10% of their annual turnover and jail executives for up to three years.

The new law was passed by Australia's parliament on Tuesday.

The legislation comes after the gunman live-streamed his attack on two mosques in Christchurch in early March as worshippers attended Friday prayers.

The footage was widely shared for over an hour before being removed. The Australia Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, described the timeframe as unacceptable.

"The approach of this government to the online environment is that the rules and norms that apply in the physical world should also apply in the online world," explained the government's Minister for Communications and the Arts, Mitch Fifield. "That's why we established the world's first E-Safety Commissioner to be a one-stop shop for advice, education and enforcement."

"It's important that we make a very clear statement to these social media organisations, that we expect their behaviour to change," the minister added.

Australia's Attorney General, Christian Porter, would not be more precise on what is or is not an "expeditious" timeframe.

"But what I can say, and I think every Australian would agree, it was totally unreasonable that it should exist (the video of the shooting) on their site for well over an hour without them taking any action whatsoever."

It is now an offence in Australia for companies, such as Facebook Inc and Alphabet's Google, which owns YouTube, not to remove any videos or photographs that show murder, torture or rape without delay. Companies must also inform Australian police within a "reasonable" timeframe.