Multiple major Australian telecoms companies have blocked access to several websites accused of hosting and allowing the dissemination of footage of the Christchurch terrorist attack.
According to Nine News, Telstra—the country’s largest telecommunications company—blocked access to 4chan, 8chan, Voat, the blog Zerohedge and hosting platform LiveLeak on Tuesday. The sites were also unavailable on Optus and Vodafone networks, though the companies have not confirmed the names of the sites blocked.
Telstra released a statement in which Networks and IT Executive Nikos Katinakis explained, “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.”
The block on 4chan was lifted after a few hours, Nine News said, but it appears the other websites remain inaccessible.
Brenton Tarrant, 28, is accused of murdering 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday, in what authorities have described as a white supremacist terrorist attack. The Australian citizen live-streamed his attack on Facebook, and the footage quickly spread across the internet.
New Zealand police and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked people not to share the graphic video. Companies attempted to scrub copies from the internet as the world reacted to the massacre, but have still struggled to keep up with its spread.
A spokesperson for Vodafone explained that the company would only usually block access to a site on the request of law enforcement or courts, but that this “was an extreme case which we think requires an extraordinary response…While there were discussions at an industry level about this issue, this is a decision Vodafone Australia came to independently,” the statement added. Optus explained it made its decision after “reflecting on community expectations.”
The Australian Communications Alliance also cited the “extraordinary circumstances” for the ISPs’ decision to block the websites, noting the companies were working to “minimize any inconvenience that may arise from legitimate content being blocked,” which it called an “unavoidable, temporary consequence.”
Lawmakers and activists across the globe have called on social media companies and other sites to do more to block and remove extremist content in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack. Given that the shootings were streamed live on Facebook, the social media giant has come in for added criticism.
There has not yet been any suggestion that American companies may follow the example being set in Australia. Floyd Abrams, a senior counsel at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP in New York and a First Amendment expert, told Newsweek that ISPs in the U.S. would be within their rights to block sites if they wished.
“The First Amendment applies only to the government so the decision of telecoms about what to carry and could not violate the First Amendment any more than a decision of a newspaper or magazine could,” he explained. “One could argue about whether it violates the spirit of the First Amendment for the telecoms to have made that decision. I view it as a debatable but entirely rational editorial decision.”
LiveLeak—well-known for hosting graphic videos combat and violent crime—had already said it would not host footage from the Christchurch attack. It described the video as being filmed by a “psychopath” and said it did not wish to be “a vehicle of choice for those who carry these events out.”