Australian government wants to partner with social media companies to review “misinformation”

The regulators want a "code of conduct".

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The ACMA (Australian Communication and Media Authority) wants to collaborate with digital platforms to develop a cross-platform code of counter that will help counter misinformation in the country.

“The ACMA encourages platforms to consider a single, industry-wide code that provides appropriate protections and remedies for Australian users of digital platforms. It expects this code will be consumer-centric, readily accessible to the public, and fit-for-purpose for Australia,” it wrote in a position paper.

This request is sponsored by the Australian government, which wants the ACMA to supervise the development of the code and also review the current impact of “misinformation” and the measures put in place by these internet platforms.

This recommendation is part of many others under the Digital Platforms Inquiry conducted by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety, and Arts, said he expects tech companies to collaborate with the ACMA and create “long-term, transparent, and accountable practices” that will protect Australian users better.

The ACMA hopes that the code of conduct will help address the problem of fake news and misinformation on the internet. The code should solve this problem in user-generated content as well as ads and sponsored content.

The communications regulator also wants the code to include recommendations on what digital platforms consider authoritative sources of information and news.

By digital platforms, the ACMA means social media, search engines, and any content sharing services that attract more than a million active users per month in Australia.

By default, that would include Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Google Search, YouTube, Google News, Apple News, LinkedIn, and TikTok. However, ACMA would, in the future, extend the code to other digital services such as closed group messaging services such as WhatsApp, online forums such as Reddit, virtual assistants such as Alexa, and audio hosting services such as Spotify.

“The ACMA would, however, strongly encourage all digital platforms with a presence in Australia, regardless of their size, to sign up to an industry-wide code to demonstrate their commitment to addressing misinformation.”

The ACMA recommends the development of the code on an outcome-basis, which would need reporting from the participants. The regulatory body notes that different platforms have different systems for recognizing misinformation and that it might not be “appropriate to assess each platform’s performance against a single or uniform set of industry-wide performance metrics.” But it hopes that this recommendation would attract research sponsors and inspire collaboration that will help tackle misinformation.

“Platforms should consider ongoing avenues of collaboration between signatories, government, academia, and other experts, and other relevant industries.”

The regulator also recommends platforms to avail avenues through which users can flag misinformation and “hate 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,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

O’Loughlin recognized that most platforms have been doing a decent job at handling coronavirus-related disinformation. “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,” he explained.

The ACMA hopes digital platforms will step up and start developing the code of conduct before the end of the year.

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