On Friday, January 20, 2023, Australian Communications minister Michelle Rowland announced that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would be able to enact an enforceable code against online misinformation as industry self-regulation measures proved insufficient, Australian media reported.
Australia Takes a New Step to Counter Misinformation
According to Michelle Rowland, the Australian media regulator will gain new powers to impose a compulsory code of conduct against online misinformation on digital platforms.
The government is giving information-gather and record-keeping powers to the media watchdog to enhance transparency around efforts by digital platforms’ response to misinformation.
Due to its new information-gathering powers, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will also be able to assess how online platforms, including social media platforms, combat and respond to misinformation and disinformation.
This new reform follows the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), whose members include Google, Apple, Meta, Twitter, and Tiktok, reinforcing its voluntary code of conduct in December.
For the regulator, until recently, the Australian updated misinformation code was still failing to tackle large-scale group messaging. It needs strict requirements for digital platforms to report on harm reduction.
Meanwhile, the new code and standard-making powers will not apply to professional news and authorized electoral content.
DIGI Welcomed The Misinformation Reform in Australia
The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) welcomed the minister’s announcement and said that the reform would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority a “longer-term mandate” to oversee the code against online misinformation and disinformation and give a chance to the platforms to develop and administer this code.
DIGI’s managing director, Sunita Bose, says the group is “committed to driving improvements in the management of misinformation and disinformation in Australia, demonstrated through our track record of work with signatory companies to develop and strengthen the industry code.”
“We welcome that this announcement aims to reinforce DIGI's efforts and that it formalizes our long-term working relationship with the ACMA concerning combating misinformation online,” Bose added.
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the regulatory authority would enact an enforceable industry code if the current self-regulation measures are insufficient. Moreover, new information-gathering powers will extend to non-signatories of the DIGI’s voluntary code.
“The Albanese government will consult with industry and the public on an exposure draft of the legislation in the first half of this year and looks forward to constructive engagement with stakeholders and industry,” Minister Michelle Rowland announced.
The Federal Government will undertake public consultation through the release of an exposure draft bill in the first half of 2023. The proposed laws will be legislated by the end of the year, according to Australian news outlets.
Is this Legislation Enough?
Following this step, the digital platforms will still be responsible for the content they host and promote. Meanwhile, the Australian Communications and Media Authority “will not have a role in determining what is truthful,” the Guardian reported.
From this perspective, the Australian government will need another independent body responsible for determining facts and lies. As social media platforms’ misinformation policies showed flaws in fighting rumors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, these platforms cannot simultaneously be the accused and the judge.
As the new code will not be applied to professional news and authorized electoral content, another problem will be in question, professional media outlets may not be immune to misinformation. There were many cases when authorized media outlets published rumors and false reporting. Since most of these outlets are available on social media platforms in search of new readers, there is a strong bond between media reporting and what is circulating on social platforms.
Misbar previously proved the joint responsibility of the global citizens, governments, companies, and social media platforms to tackle misinformation, especially since the media landscape changes over time.
Now that people get their information essentially from social media platforms, it is urgent to develop critical thinking and media literacy to be able to distinguish between reliable information and false reporting while navigating floods of information and visual content.