Following a wave of misinformation and disinformation online that might cause serious harm, Australia’s media regulator will force big tech companies to share data on how they handle these issues.
Aiming to tackle the threat posed by fake news, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will be able to set an internet industry code on platforms with overly “narrow” existing codes, thus having the power to dictate new industry rules.
The ACMA suggested that the existing requirement that the harm from social media posts must be “imminent” and “serious” for companies to react is ineffective and potentially “chronically” dangerous.
"Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears," Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The ACMA’s June 2021 report found that four-fifths of Australian adults encountered COVID-related misinformation during the last two years, which had sabotaged the efforts of Australia’s public health.
While misinformation was most commonly disseminated via social media giants, such as Facebook and Twitter, smaller platforms also significantly contributed to the spread of conspiracy theories.
ACMA suggested that while it was appropriate for companies to assess whether posts can cause “serious” harm before taking action, the “imminent” requirement might lead to the exclusion of chronic harms having cumulative effects. An example used to illustrate this issue was the 2021 Capitol riot in Washington D.C., which ACMA said was due to “the impact of longer-term chronic harms arising from the widespread belief in misinformation, and how this can spill over to the real-world as incitement to commit violent acts.”
“It is important to note that the code’s current approach does not preclude action on what might be described as chronic harms, and we’ve certainly seen signatories report action on these in their transparency reports,” a Digi spokesperson said, the Guardian reports.