COVID-19 has uncovered many issues underlying the way social media platforms and online publications handle misinformation. And many media companies – CONTX Media included – would admit that it has been difficult sifting through all the noise.
The Australian media regulator, ACMA, recently reported that 4 in 5 young Australians have “experienced COVID-19 misinformation” online. The report included consumer research that “examined Australian attitudes and experiences of misinformation on COVID-19, social media analysis that examined the scale and drivers of online misinformation narratives in Australia.”
ACMA provided an overview of the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, as currently, it is mostly a voluntary code. The regulator also provided an assessment of whether the code had met the expectations set out by the Australian government.
As a result of ACMA’s findings, the Australian government will introduce legislation this year to help “combat harmful disinformation and misinformation online,” through a Misinformation and Disinformation Action Group.
ACMA is also recommending they gain “reserve powers to register industry codes, enforce industry code compliance and make standards relating to the activities of digital platforms.”
New powers proposed by ACMA would allow the media regulator “to hold platforms to account should their voluntary efforts prove inadequate or untimely.” And with 76% of Australians saying online platforms need to be doing more to combat COVID misinformation – perhaps this is a good idea.
But what is most concerning about ACMA’s listed “key areas of improvement” to the media code is the inclusion of private messaging. “Private messaging services should be included within the scope of the code as these are known vectors of disinformation and misinformation,” wrote ACMA.
Interestingly, ACMA also recommended they “should be provided with formal information-gathering powers (including powers to make record-keeping rules).”
Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said in a press release that “Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears. This is our Government’s clear expectation.”
Minister Fletcher said the Government welcomed all five of the recommendations made in ACMA’s report. Also adding, “The Government acknowledges the positive steps taken by industry, but believes more protections must be provided to Australians online.”
WHO DEFINES ‘MISINFORMATION’?
ACMA’s report found that most COVID-19 misinformation is being experienced on larger platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. But it is still unclear who will have the final say on what is and what is not considered misinformation in Australia.
So the question becomes: Is the fluid mainstream definition of misinformation acceptable? Or should the definition of misinformation be more definitive, thereby not allowing governments the ability to judge each case subjectively?
The final decision by parliament in mid-2022 will have far-reaching implications for digital privacy and freedom of the press in Australia, regardless. What is being touted as a positive move to control misinformation is also housing proposed changes to the law that should concern all Australians.