Australia’s media regulator will be able to force internet companies to share data. This is about how they have handled misinformation and disinformation under new laws that will bolster government efforts to rein in Big Tech. The government said that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also be able to enforce an internet industry code on uncooperative platforms. Also, they joined others around the world seeking to reduce the spread of harmful falsehoods online.
The planned laws are a response to an ACMA investigation. This had found that four-fifths of Australian adults had experienced misinformation about COVID-19. 76% thought that online platforms should do more to cut the amount of false and misleading content online. The laws broadly align with efforts by Europe to curb damaging online content. These are due to take effect by the end of 2022. But the European Union has said that it wants even tougher measures to stop disinformation given some of the output from Russian state-owned media during the invasion of Ukraine.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement that the Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears. The ACMA said that the Australians were most likely to see misinformation on larger services like Meta Platforms’s Facebook and Twitter Inc. False narratives typically started with highly emotive and engaging posts within small online conspiracy groups. Also, they were amplified by international influencers, local public figures, and by coverage in the media. The authority also noted that disinformation involves intentionally spreading false information to influence politics or sow discord. And that was continuing to target Australians. Facebook had removed four disinformation campaigns in Australia from 2019 to 2020.
It said that the conspiracy groups often urged people to join smaller platforms with looser moderation policies, like Telegram. The ACMA said that if those platforms rejected industry-set content guidelines, then they may present a higher risk to the Australian community. The crackdown adds another element to the ruling conservative government’s assertion that it has taken a big stick approach to tech giants. This is because it faces an election that is due by May that most polls suggest it will lose.
Fletcher said that the new powers for the regulator would be introduced to parliament in late 2022. This means that it would likely be up to the current opposition Labor party to shepherd them through if the government loses the election. Michelle Rowland, told that the opposition supported the expanded powers but the government had taken too long to introduce them since they were recommended in 2019. DIGI, an Australian industry body representing Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Twitter and video site TikTok, said that it supported the recommendations and noted it had already set up a system to process complaints about misinformation.