Tightening the noose around the US BigTech companies, the Australian media regulator will now force internet companies to share data about how they have handled misinformation and disinformation under the new regulatory framework invoked by the government in its bid to rein in Big Tech.
According to the new regulation, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also be able to enforce an internet industry code on uncooperative platforms in its bid to check falsehoods online.
The planned laws are a response to an ACMA investigation that found four-fifths of Australian adults had experienced misinformation about COVID-19 and 76 per cent thought 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, which are due to take effect by the end of 2022, although the European Union has said it wants even tougher measures to stop disinformation given some of the output from Russian state-owned media during the invasion of Ukraine.
“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. Australians were most likely to see misinformation on larger services like Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Twitter Inc, the ACMA said.
False narratives typically started with “highly emotive and engaging posts within small online conspiracy groups” and were “amplified by international influencers, local public figures, and by coverage in the media,” it added.
The authority also noted that disinformation, which involves intentionally spreading false information to influence politics or sow discord, was continuing to target Australians. Facebook had removed four disinformation campaigns in Australia from 2019 to 2020, it said.
The regulator said that conspiracy groups often urged people to join smaller platforms with looser moderation policies, like Telegram. If those platforms rejected industry-set content guidelines “they may present a higher risk to the Australian community,” the ACMA said.
The crackdown adds another element to the ruling conservative government’s assertion that it has taken a big stick approach to tech giants, as it faces an election that is due by May that most polls suggest it will lose.
Fletcher said the new powers for the regulator would be introduced to parliament in late 2022, meaning it would likely be up to the current opposition Labor party to shepherd them through if the government loses the election.