Social media giants put on notice over stabbing content

Andrew Brown |

Calls are growing for harsher penalties for social media platforms following recent stabbings.
Calls are growing for harsher penalties for social media platforms following recent stabbings.

Social media companies are on notice to be more proactive in removing graphic content or misinformation online, as a bipartisan push for tougher penalties gathers pace.

Calls are growing for harsher sanctions for social media platforms in the wake of Saturday’s shopping centre massacre in Sydney after distressing footage of the attack was uploaded online and misinformation spread.

After a week marked by trauma and anger following the murders in Westfield Bondi Junction, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the companies had a social responsibility to stop the spread of footage from the stabbings.

Social media apps
There’s a groundswell of support to force social media platforms to remove graphic online images. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

“Media companies, including social media companies, have a responsibility to act,” he said in Melbourne on Friday.

“It shouldn’t need the eSafety Commissioner to intervene to direct companies … to take down violent videos that show people who have lost their lives.”

The online safety watchdog has written to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, as well as X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, asking for the graphic images to be removed.

“eSafety is disappointed that process has been unnecessarily prolonged,” eSafety said in a statement.

“We are considering whether further regulatory action is warranted.”

Mr Albanese said social media companies must be proactive.

“The social media companies that make a lot of money out of their business have a social responsibility,” he said.

Following the stabbing, the eSafety Commissioner urged people not to share graphic images online.

It received a small number of reports from the public relating to the attack by a 40-year-old man, who killed six and injured 12 people.

The tragedy, and the stabbing of a bishop by a 16-year-old boy in Sydney on Monday – which has been labelled a terrorist act – has also prompted concerns in the NSW Police force about the responsibilities of social media firms.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb condemned the misinformation that was allowed to circulate online in the aftermath.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb
Commissioner Webb said social media platforms carried false information after both attacks. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

“There’s been information on applications like WhatsApp, TikTok, other things, suggesting certain things and they’re not true,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“It’s creating fear, unnecessary fear in the community, and it needs to stop.”

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten urged the platforms to adhere to their social licence.

“It’s unimaginable what’s happened. The social media companies need a big rinse out, frankly,” Mr Shorten told Nine’s Today program on Friday.

“It’s a bit of a shame it takes the government to sort of play whack-a-mole here to shut down the horrible images.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says tougher action must be taken against platforms that don’t comply with take down requests for offensive content.

Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten
Bill Shorten says social media companies “need a big rinse out”. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“They’ve got a complete contempt for families, for kids who spent a lot of time on social media and the influence that they exert needs to have that social licence,” he told Nine.

The government is already considering options for tougher sanctions for social media companies who fail to take content down following requests by the watchdog.

“The advice I’ve got is that Facebook did a reasonable job, but Twitter hasn’t,” Education Minister Jason Clare told Seven’s Sunrise program.

“There’s penalties there of $500,000 for companies, $100,000 for individuals – we’re looking at what more needs to be done here as well.”

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley said the social media giants had to stop the graphic content from being shared widely.

“I’m so sick of these social media platforms, I’m so sick of their excuses. They’re parents too, they have a responsibility,” she said.

“We’ll support the government in cracking down, getting tougher and finding ways of getting outside this sort of voluntary compliance routine that exists right now.”