Australian Internet Service Providers (ISP) have begun blocking access to websites used to host footage of the Christchurch attack, including 4chan, 8chan, Liveleak, Voat and ZeroHedge.
Telstra, Vodafone and Optus have all announced that various websites will be restricted under ‘sensitive material guidelines’, in a move that has many Australians concerned about growing systems of mass censorship.
According to reports, internet users in Australia have been blocked from accessing a number of sites that are hosting or streaming material related to the Christchurch shooting, after websites wouldn’t load late last yesterday afternoon for many individuals.
Amidst a wave of questions and posts on social media to the telco giants, Telstra was the first to publish a formal statement surrounding the disappearance or redirection of certain servers:
Nikos Katinakis, Telstra Networks and IT Executive, commented on the concerns:
“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.
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.”
Vodafone released similar statements as pressure mounted for action to be taken against news organisations and platforms that enabled the attack to be broadcast live or replayed:
According to a Vodafone spokesperson on Twitter:
“Vodafone Australia has today started the process of temporarily blocking sites known to be actively hosting footage of Friday’s shootings in Christchurch.
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 sharing of this video.”
Optus has also followed suit in blocking access, confirming their moves in correspondence to IT News after an earlier decision not to follow their competitors:
“Reflecting on community expectations, Optus has blocked domains which are hosting video footage/sensitive materials relating to the recent Christchurch attack in New Zealand.”
Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto is laden with references to political forums he may have frequented on 4chan and 8chan, sites he was supposedly allowed to plan, announce and livestream the attack to the world – ‘undetected’.
A spokesman for the eSafety commissioner said she did not provide any direction or advice to Australian ISPs in regard to the blocking of websites.
The office does not have the authority to direct ISPs to block domains, but can take action to remove content shared on Australian-hosted websites.
The aftermath of the event has already had many immediate implications, including calls to further regulate social media giants, calls to censor ‘far-right’ platforms, and the announcement of swift changes to gun laws by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Shortly the event on Friday, New Zealand police warned against sharing footage relating to the shooting in Christchurch Friday, after a video online allegedly showed a gunman filming himself firing at worshippers inside a mosque.
Following the announcement, a New Zealand teen was arrested and has appeared in court over alleged re-posting of mosque shootings livestream.
The 18-year-old student was refused bail and remanded in custody to April 8, when he will appear in court by video-link from prison.
In Australia, a warning was issued from Prime Minister Morrison to social media giants ‘promoting’ violence.
Telstra and Vodafone’s similarly-timed decision and wording seems like a coordinated response, driven either by the telcos or by law enforcement or regulators.
The telco industry’s peak body said the decision to voluntarily block domains was made due to the “extraordinary circumstances” involved.
However, the moves have others concerned this is a smokescreen to set a censorship precedent, by beginning to regulate information on the public internet under the guise of ‘sensitivity’.
We will be continuously updating this article with further developments.
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Blocking websites hosting footage of the Christchurch terrorist attack | Telstra Exchange