Scott Morrison has fired a warning to social media companies after a video of a man killing himself circulated online.
The shocking video was uploaded to Facebook Live late last month – and swiftly removed on the day – but copies have been widely shared on Chinese-owned app TikTok which is popular with children.
In a video from his office in Parliament House on Wednesday, Mr Morrison described the footage as ‘horrifying.’
In a warning to social media companies, he said: ‘You need to be accountable and you need to be responsible for making sure that your product does not harm Australians.
‘My government will be doing everything to make sure we hold you to account for that.’
TikTok is struggling to remove the video because it has been embedded in several other videos, including footage showing kittens.
Mr Morrison began his video by saying: ‘Social media has become, like it or not, part of our modern life.
‘It gives us a bit of a laugh, people doing silly dances. Sometimes, they are taking the mickey out of me.
‘But there is a serious concern and a serious side with what happens with social media and we saw that with that disgraceful video that was uploaded onto TikTok.
‘Now TikTok, I know kids look at it and they have a lot of fun and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Chinese-run social media app is still struggling to delete the graphic video, which features a 33-year-old man from the US as he ended his life
‘But those who run these organisations have a responsibility to those who are watching it and particularly when it comes to children.
‘The rules in the real world, how you behave in the real world… have to be the same in the social media world. You need to be accountable. You need to be responsible.’
Presenter Sam Armytage spoke about the footage on Sunrise on Wednesday morning, calling for social media companies to be held accountable for what they publish.
‘Teenagers should not be exposed to this sort of stuff,’ Ms Armytage said.
‘It’s disturbing, they need to be regulated, if they want to publish they need to live by regulations like the rest of us.’
‘If social media companies can’t take down horrific content like this does the government need to block them.’
Sam Armytage (right) and Australian broadcaster Justin Smith (left) blasted social media app TikTok after thousands of children were lured into watching a horrific suicide video
A spokeswoman for TikTok confirmed the suicide video had been circulating. She insisted the platform was doing all it could to remove the content in a timely matter
WHAT IS TIKTOK?
TikTok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream, create short videos and music videos and Gifs with a host of functions.
TikTok’s tagline is ‘Make every second count’.
It was the most downloaded app in the US in 2018 and the world’s fourth most downloaded app in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known in China as Douyin where it was launched in 2016 and then made more widely available around the world in 2017.
Douyin is still the version of the app used in China, available to download separately to TikTok.
Last year, the app was merged with popular music video lip-syncing app Musical.ly, also with headquarters in China.
Most children use the app to film themselves lip-syncing to chart hits.
It offers users a raft if colourful modification and editing tools including overlaying music, sound, animated stickers, filters and augmented reality (AR) for creating short videos.
The Beijing based social network has more than 500 million active users and the company is now worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).
Australian broadcaster Justin Smith, who also appeared on the segment, said the government needs to start issuing warnings when this type of material appears on social media.
‘They are the publishers of this material, Channel 7 is the publisher of this segment, if we were to do something like that Channel 7 would have to pay for it,’ he said.
‘But TikTok and Facebook and Twitter just seem to shrug their shoulders as they have done many times and say ‘h, it’s up to people to put up what they want”.
‘They are the publishers, they need to start taking responsibility for that.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s eSafety Commissioner was working to have the footage removed from the site.
‘No child should be exposed to horrifying content like this and platforms like TikTok need to put in more resources to detect and tear down this sort of harmful content,’ he said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also spoke out against the ‘horrifying footage’, calling for more to be done to ‘protect children and families from the dangers of social media’.
A TikTok spokeswoman insisted the platform was doing all it could to remove the content.
‘Our systems have been automatically detecting and flagging these clips for violating our policies against content that displays, praises, glorifies, or promotes suicide,’ she said.
‘We are banning accounts that repeatedly try to upload clips, and we appreciate our community members who’ve reported content and warned others against watching, engaging, or sharing such videos on any platform out of respect for the person and their family.’
The app has a safety centre which has access to suicide hotlines for any users who were distressed by the footage.
In spite of their efforts, the man’s name was trending on TikTok Australia on Tuesday morning, as were several clips of young people who explained that they were traumatised after watching the video.
The video prompted Bellevue Hill Public School in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to issue a warning letter to parents about the video on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s eSafety Commissioner was working to have the footage removed from the site
The video sparked schools to issue a warning letter to parents, including this one in Sydney’s eastern suburbs
‘We strongly recommend that you also be extra vigilant with the supervision of your child’s social media use until this content is removed,’ the letter supplied to Daily Mail Australia states.
‘We have also received reports that trolls are using videos of puppies and kittens to lure children into see the video.’
Parents are urged to speak to their children if they have viewed the footage.
Facebook removed the video from the platform on the same day that it was uploaded, and has been working to ensure any copies of the video are also deleted.
The streaming service was criticised last year after Brenton Tarrant was able to live stream the Christchurch mosque mass murder in New Zealand.
A Facebook spokeswoman said: ‘Our thoughts remain with (the victim’s) family and friends during this difficult time.’
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