The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been tasked by the federal government with overseeing the development of a voluntary code to counter online misinformation.
ACMA published a paper on Friday outlining its expectations, which is set to include major companies: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn, Google News, Google Search, and Apple News.
The report cited a study by the University of Canberra, which stated 48 percent of Australians relied on online news or social media as their main source of information.
Social media was the most common source of misinformation, with 66 percent of respondents saying they encountered it on social media, compared to 36 percent on news media, and 30 percent being forwarded misinformation from someone they know.
A Lowy Institute poll released on June 24 found that 48 percent of Australians saw the dissemination of false information and fake news as an “important” threat.
According to ACMA Chairperson Nerida O’Loughlin: “False and misleading news and information online has the potential to cause serious harm to individuals, communities and society.”
“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,” she 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,” O’Loughlin added.
The report highlighted that the summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic were fertile breeding grounds for harmful misinformation. Some examples of disinformation included conspiracy theories on the cause of the fires, and fake cures for the virus.
ACMA has stated that the code should reduce the impact of misinformation, assist Australians in better judging the quality of the news they consume, and improve transparency and accountability on how the digital platforms operate.
The watchdog is setting a December deadline for the tech giants to formulate the code.
It will report to the government in June 2021. If progress is slow or the code does not achieve its objectives, it may report to the government earlier.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told AAP: “The government expects the digital platforms will work constructively with the ACMA to set up long-term, transparent and accountable practices.”
Fletcher, along with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, have been ramping up regulation of the tech giants in recent months. On April 19 they instructed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to create a mandatory code governing how Google and Facebook would compensate media publishers for their content.
A draft of the code is expected to be ready end of July.