Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Australia opens consultation on laws to tackle online misinformation

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

Public consultation has begun on a new framework to empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to hold digital platforms to account for harmful misinformation and disinformation online.

The Australian Government says the proposed powers will bring greater transparency to efforts by digital platforms to respond to misinformation and disinformation on their services, while balancing freedom of expression.

The release of exposure draft legislation gives industry and the community the opportunity to review proposed ACMA information-gathering, record-keeping, code registration and standard-making powers to compel digital platforms to do more to protect Australians from the threat of online misinformation and disinformation, said Federal Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland.

“Mis and disinformation sows division within the community, undermines trust and can threaten public health and safety,” said Minister Rowland.

“The Albanese Government is committed to keeping Australians safe online, and that includes ensuring the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis and disinformation on their services.

“This consultation process gives industry and the public the opportunity to have their say on the proposed framework, which aims to strike the right balance between protection from harmful mis and disinformation online and freedom of speech.

“I encourage all stakeholders to make a submission and look forward to introducing the Bill into Parliament later this year, following the consultation process,” she said.

The Minister said the draft framework focusses on systemic issues which pose a risk of harm on digital platforms.

“It does not empower the ACMA to determine what is true or false or to remove individual content or posts. The code and standard-making powers will not apply to professional news content or authorised electoral content.”

Platforms will continue to be responsible for the content they host and promote to users. If platforms fail to act to combat misinformation and disinformation over time, the ACMA would be able to draw on its reserve powers to register enforceable industry codes with significant penalties for non-compliance, or create a standard requiring platforms to lift the bar on their efforts, she said.

Codes or standards could include measures such as stronger tools to empower users to identify and report misinformation and disinformation, ensure more robust complaints handling, and enable more extensive use of fact checkers.

The proposed powers implement the key recommendations in the ACMA’s June 2021 report to government on the adequacy of digital platforms’ disinformation and news quality measures. The powers build upon and are intended to strengthen and support the voluntary code developed by the Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI).

Public consultation will close on Sunday, 6 August, with legislation to be introduced into Parliament later this year.

To find out more, visit www.infrastructure.gov.au/have-your-say.

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