Watchdog lays the groundwork for digital platforms to self-regulate on misinformation and news quality

Australia’s media watchdog – the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – says digital platforms should not be arbiters of truth online.

This is a sentiment shared by Facebook’s CEO, however unlike Mark Zuckerberg, ACMA says the digital platforms need to do more as misinformation is a cause of serious community concern.

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

ACMA’s position is made clear in its position paper which outlines its expectations for a voluntary code of practice on misinformation and news quality to be developed by the digital platforms.

It anticipates the digital platforms will be working together on this, with a code in place by December 2020.

ACMA’s timeline [Click to enlarge]

All platforms should participate, ACMA said.

“The ACMA expects that the code will cover online search engines, social media platforms and other digital aggregation services with a major presence in Australia. The ACMA would encourage all platforms, regardless of size, to consider signing up to the code,” it recommended.

The watchdog is due to report to the Government in June 2021 on the development of the code which will aim to reduce the impact of harmful misinformation, empower people to better judge the quality of news and information, and enhance the transparency and accountability of platforms’ practices.

ACMA wants the code to be outcomes-based with a set of clear and measurable outcomes. The code would, however, come with “the flexibility to decide how they deliver against these outcomes”.

ACMA’s proposal for how an ‘outcomes-based’ would work [Click to enlarge]

“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,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said.

“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.”

The positions paper is just one of the responses to the Government’s Digital Platforms Inquiry and Report conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCCC).

Recommendation 14 said there should be an oversight role for a regulator to monitor issues of misinformation and the quality of news and information, while the 15th recommendation said a mandatory code was necessary.

In response, the Government asked the major digital platforms to develop a voluntary code.

What next? [Click to enlarge] 

ACMA conceded that most of the research into misinformation during COVID-19 was limited due to the ongoing nature of the crisis, but said what little data was available showed cause for concern.

Italian research group Bruno Kessler Foundation found 5.9 million posts on Twitter in March linking to news about COVID-19 – 1.7 million of which contained misinformation.

“The true volume of and exposure to misinformation across social media would be substantially higher,” the positions paper said, noting the scale of Facebook, Google and YouTube.

The full report – Misinformation and news quality on digital platforms in Australia: A position paper to guide development – can be read here


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