The Australian government has not ruled out taking tougher action against social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter if a new industry-developed code fails to limit the spread of misinformation and disinformation on their platforms.
The new code of practice, developed by industry organization Digi and released yesterday, has been adopted by Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Redbubble and TikTok.
Under the new code, signatories are required to develop processes for identifying, reviewing and removing misinformation and disinformation on their platforms.
Misinformation is defined as false information regardless of the intent of the person sharing it, while disinformation is spread with the deliberate intent to deceive, often by state actors.
The code requires participants to remove misinformation and disinformation, suspend accounts, label misleading content, demonetize misinformation, have a process for reviewing decisions made around misinformation and disinformation, and to deprioritize content in algorithms over news sources with an editorial code.
How the code would work in practice remains to be seen.
Companies that have signed up to it are required to publish annual reports on how they are meeting the objectives of the code, with the first reports on its effectiveness due in May.
Reset Australia, an organization lobbying for regulation of the technology companies, called the code “shameless and pointless,” and called for an independent public regulator to be set up instead.
“This limp, toothless, opt-in code of practice is both pointless and shameless,” Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper said. “The laughable thing about this code is that even if platforms choose to opt in, they can choose which provisions they have to follow, and then if it starts hurting their bottom line, all they have to do is pull out.”
The code was developed by Digi in response to the Australian competition watchdog’s inquiry into digital platforms in 2019.
Australian Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher said that the government would see how the code worked in practice, and did not rule out further action.
The government “will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective in providing safeguards against the serious harms that arise from the spread of disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms,” Fletcher said.
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