Denham Sadler
August 27, 2019

No ‘silver bullet’ for extremism: Watts

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No ‘silver bullet’ for extremism: Watts

Tim Watts: A more holistic approach is needed

The federal government must take a more holistic approach to combating online extremism and radicalisation rather than just searching for a “tech silver bullet”, according to shadow assistant minister for communications Tim Watts.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a series of measures this week aiming to stop the spread of violent or extremist content on social media platforms, including site-blocking during “crisis events” and new reporting requirements for the platforms.

The policies stem from the Christchurch Call, an agreement between governments and a range of big tech firms signed following the New Zealand terror attack earlier this yea which was live-streamed on Facebook.

Mr Watts, who is also the shadow assistant minister for cybersecurity, said the government has so far been too focused on the technology side of things.

“We shouldn’t kid ourselves that technology alone can be the silver bullet here. If you look at the Christchurch Call, the countries and tech companies agreed on a holistic effort to respond to this online violent radicalisation,” Mr Watts told InnovationAus.com.

“Blocking sites is one measure, but there are also a wide range of non-technological interventions that are needed to accompany that,” he said.

These efforts should include community-based deradicalisation programs, anti-racism programs and efforts to counter the narratives of violent extremists, Mr Watts said.

“I’d like to see more intent and action from the Morrison government on those other aspects. The government ought to be taking a comprehensive holistic approach to this issue rather than looking for a tech silver bullet.”

The government has revealed new rules that would allow Australian telcos to block sites hosting “harmful and extreme content” during and after a “crisis event”. While this is a “sensible” measure, there also needs to be a focus on how these same sites are contributing to the radicalisation of individuals, he said.

“It’s one thing to intervene once an attack has occurred, but that shouldn’t stop us from also focusing on preventing the attacks occurring in the first place,” Mr Watts said.

“One thing that is clear from this is that certain sites on the internet are uniting individuals through a common ideology, and radicalising them towards violent actions.”

“We’ve seen a pattern of radicalisation for these individuals online. It’s important we engage early in that process.”

There are also concerns that the government’s site-blocking proposal is a “slippery slope” towards censorship, and Mr Watts said there needs to be an open discussion about these issues.

“In an open liberal society it’s important that we debate these issues, and it’s important we have this debate in public. We should be clear about the limitations of the tech intervention too. Any site-blocking regime will not block everyone from accessing the desired sites, there are always tech workarounds for these things,” he said.

“However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action at all. I don’t think we can let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The government also needs to allow “sufficient time” for any new legislation in this space to be properly scrutinised by the Opposition and Parliamentary committees, Mr Watts said.

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