Optus, Telstra, Vodafone Block Sites Hosting Christchurch Videos
Australian phone providers are blocking their customers from accessing websites that hosted videos connected to the Christchurch terror attack.
10 daily can confirm Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are all working to restrict their users accessing controversial messageboard sites and content-hosting platforms that shared footage of the massacre which left 50 people dead last week.
The shooter live-streamed his rampage on social media, with countless versions of the video being ripped and reuploaded across the internet. Facebook claimed it removed 1.5 million versions of the video, but the footage soon spread to many other websites.
Vodafone, Telstra and Optus all confirmed to 10 daily that they were blocking their users from accessing such websites.
It is understood the companies plan to allow their customers to access the sites again, removing the temporary blocks, once all the content in question is removed.
It follows some of New Zealand’s largest broadband providers -- including Vodafone NZ, Spark and 2degrees -- taking similar action last week.
"Vodafone Australia believes there is no place on the internet for this horrific, disturbing content. We have placed temporary blocks on dozens of sites known to be still actively hosting footage of Friday’s shootings in Christchurch," Vodafone told 10 daily in a statement.
"We understand users trying to access these sites for legitimate purposes may be inconvenienced but we believe it’s the right thing to do in these extreme circumstances to help stop the further distribution of this video."
Optus also defended its decision.
"Reflecting on community expectations, Optus has blocked domains which are hosting video footage/sensitive materials relating to the recent Christchurch attack in New Zealand," a spokesperson told 10 daily.
On Monday, Telstra told its customers that some websites would be blocked.
A Telstra spokesperson gave a similar statement to the other companies.
We have started temporarily blocking a number of websites that continue to host the footage of Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch.
We understand this may inconvenience some legitimate users of these sites, but these are extreme circumstances and we feel this is the right thing to do," Telstra said.
A further statement posted on Telstra's website said the company was aware of the need to consider free speech.
"We appreciate that it is necessary to ensure free speech is carefully balanced against protecting the community – but with these sites continuing to host disturbing content we feel it is the right thing to do to block them," Nikos Katinakis, Telstra's group executive for Networks and IT, wrote.
"These are shocking events and the idea that this footage could in some way be used to incite or support hate is a sickening thought. We will continue to do whatever we can to assist and to support a diverse and inclusive community."
None of the telcos provided a list of the sites they have banned. However, Facebook -- where the shooter streamed his massacre -- is not affected.
Chris Sonderby, VP and Deputy General Counsel of the social media giant, defended Facebook's handling of the incident in a lengthy statement posted online.
"We remain shocked and saddened by this tragedy and are committed to working with leaders in New Zealand, other governments, and across the technology industry to help counter hate speech and the threat of terrorism," he said.
"We continue to work around the clock to prevent this content from appearing on our site, using a combination of technology and people."
Sonderby claimed the shooter's video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast, and was only viewed around 4000 times in total before it was removed from Facebook. He claimed there were no formal reports lodged against the video while it was live-streaming.
"The first user report on the original video came in 29 minutes after the video started, and 12 minutes after the live broadcast ended," he said.
"We removed the original Facebook Live video and hashed it so that other shares that are visually similar to that video are then detected and automatically removed from Facebook and Instagram."
Sonderby said Facebook had designated the shootings as a terror attack, meaning that any praise or support of the events violates the site's Community Standards and is not allowed.
"We removed the personal accounts of the named suspect from Facebook and Instagram, and are actively identifying and removing any imposter accounts that surface," he said.
"Some variants such as screen recordings were more difficult to detect, so we expanded to additional detection systems including the use of audio technology."
In the first 24 hours, we removed about 1.5 million videos of the attack globally. More than 1.2 million of those videos were blocked at upload, and were therefore prevented from being seen on our services.
New Zealand's telcos, in a long open letter, demanded social media giants to do more to block such content ever appearing.
"We call on Facebook, Twitter and Google, whose platforms carry so much content, to be a part of an urgent discussion at an industry and New Zealand Government level on an enduring solution to this issue," Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees wrote.
"Now is the time for this conversation to be had, and we call on all of you to join us at the table and be part of the solution."