When it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation, Australia is heading down the road of self-regulation, and a set of rules that the companies who currently propagate that misinformation will likely help to draft. What could possibly go wrong?

This morning the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a position paper outlining its expectations for a voluntary code or codes of practice on misinformation and news quality to be developed by digital platforms.

The position paper—Misinformation and news quality on digital platforms in Australia – A position paper to guide code development—includes a model code framework for consideration, including objectives and outcomes to be achieved for the benefit of Australian users of digital platforms.

Meanwhile, DIGI, an industry association that represents the interests of the platforms that are arguably most responsible for the dissemination of misinformation – and who profit from it –  such as is founding members Google, Facebook, Twitter and Verizon Media put out a statement supporting ACMA.

According to DIGI Managing Director Sunita Bose, “DIGI has been engaging with the ACMA since December 2019 after the Government’s request that digital platforms develop a voluntary code of conduct for disinformation.

Sunita Bose, Managing Director of Digital Industry Group

In May, DIGI told ACMA and other stakeholders that it would proactively develop an industry code, in partnership with the UTS Centre for Media Transition, to bring together the digital industry to combat the critical problem of disinformation.

“We welcome the release of the ACMA’s discussion paper today because collaboration between digital platforms, governments, civil society, academics, and the community is essential in the ongoing efforts to address the issue of disinformation.

She said, “Over time, digital platforms have introduced a broad suite of policies and technical measures to counter disinformation and enable the public to make informed decisions; the code provides an opportunity to develop a common set of principles and commitments in relation to this work and to build on existing efforts.”

In its release this morning ACMA quotes data in the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report: Australia 2020, which found that 48 per cent of Australians rely on online news or social media as their main source of news. However, 64 per cent of Australians are concerned about what is real or fake on the internet.

“That should rightly be of immense community concern. False and misleading news and information online has the potential to cause serious harm to individuals, communities and society,” ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

Nerida O’Loughlin, Chair, ACMA

“In developing this new code, digital platforms will need to balance the need to limit the spread and impact of harmful material on the internet while protecting Australians’ important rights to freedom of speech.

“Digital platforms should not be the arbiters of truth for online information. But they do have a responsibility to tackle misinformation disseminated on their platforms and to assist people to make sound decisions about the credibility of news and information.

“We know that major platforms have stepped up their processes during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the prevalence of information potentially harmful to health and property.

“It’s now time for digital platforms to codify and commit to permanent actions that are systematic, transparent, certain and accountable for their users in addressing such potentially harmful material.”

The Australian Government has asked the ACMA to oversee the platforms’ code development process and report to Government by June 2021. This follows recommendations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry.

The ACMA’s position paper identifies three key objectives to be achieved through the code:

  • reduce the impact of harmful misinformation
  • empower people to better judge the quality of news and information
  • enhance the transparency and accountability of platforms’ practices.

The ACMA anticipates the digital platforms will work together, including undertaking public consultation, to develop and have in place a single, industry-wide code by December 2020.

Photo by Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

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