Posted on March 21, 2022 at 6:55 PM
The Australian government is planning to introduce a new law that will help to minimize the spread of misinformation on social media. This is coming when global tech companies are looking for ways of combating the spread of harmful and misleading information on social media.
Many people were informed badly about the Coronavirus pandemic, and many are now being misinformed about the ongoing war in Ukraine. The bill, when passed, will empower Australia’s media watchdog more power over tech companies when it comes to the control of information.
It will empower the watchdog over the tech firms that fail to meet the standards of a voluntary disinformation and misinformation code of practice, according to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher.
The Law Will Be Introduced To The Parliament This Year
The code defines misinformation as misleading or false information that could cause harm, while disinformation is defined as misleading or false information that is distributed by users through bots and spam.
The new rule will be introduced to the parliament later in the year. Once introduced, it will be easier to assess the effectiveness of self-regulation. It will also enable the Australian government to decide whether it needs to introduce a compulsory code of practice on the rules.
Mr. Fletcher stated that digital platforms should bear the responsibility for what they put on their websites and take the necessary action when misleading or harmful information appears
He said the government expects all digital platforms to comply with the government’s directives. The government has also backed the expectations with actions by passing the new Online Safety Act. He added that the government is more serious about actions against misinformation and disinformation online.
The New Law Will Empower AMCA To Fight Against Disinformation
The announcement comes after a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). According to research conducted by the agency, 82% of Australians had been misinformed about the Covid-19 virus within the past 18 months.
The new law will give ACMA the power to gather information, allowing the agency to legally demand that tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube,e and Google hand over information.
It will enable ACMA to collect data on complaints handling, which will help to reduce the amount of disinformation flowing around Australian cyberspace.
And if the voluntary efforts are not adequate, ACMA will be given the power to register and enforce industry codes or industry standards. There are also plans to establish a disinformation and misinformation Action Group, made up of stakeholders in the private sector and across government.
Social Media Giants To Strengthen The Voluntary Code
The plan to create legislation is coming a year after DIG, the lobby group of the tech sector, established a voluntary code of practice on misinformation and disinformation. The code was set up based on the orders of the Australian government after the inquiry into the market power of digital platforms was released.
The DIGI members – Microsoft, TikTok, Google, Twitter, and Facebook – have all signed up to the new code. This means they are obliged to tell users the measures they are using to stop the spread of misinformation on their websites. It also requires them to provide annual ‘transparency’ reports that provide details of their efforts.
In October last year, the DIGI members tried to strengthen the voluntary code by setting up an independent board that will deal with complaints and policies its guidelines. DIGI also appointed Hal Crawford, an independent expert, to handle the annual transparency reports.
But the efforts have not been successful. Despite the self-regulatory attempts, websites such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube as still filled with misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Mr. Fletcher issued a warning to the social media platforms, demanding that they should immediately remove content from Russian state media. He stated that the contents were promoting violence and facilitating the spread of disinformation over the invasion of Ukraine. DIGI’s managing director, Sunita Bose, stated that the group will world together with the government to improve measures to stop disinformation and misinformation over social media platforms.
He added that the group will review the findings of the report and proactively invite views from the Government, civil society, and the public. They also plan to work with other stakeholders to make sure that false information on social media is reduced to a great extent.