New digital industry code to limit spread of misinformation

Tech companies including Twitter, Google, Facebook and Microsoft adopt new voluntary code to help prevent spread of disinformation and misinformation

A new industry code has been launched aimed at reducing misinformation on digital platforms. It comes in the wake of the Digital Platforms inquiry, conducted by the Australian Communications and Consumer Commission (ACCC), into the dominance of the platforms and the News Media Bargaining Code currently in parliament.

“This new code of practice has seen a diverse set of digital companies collaborate with each other, government, academia and civil society to propose solutions to the incredibly complex challenges of misinformation and disinformation online,” said DIGI MD, Sunita Bose.

The voluntary industry code of practice, adopted by Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Redbubble and TikTok, commits the platforms to a range of scalable measures to reduce the spread and visibility of disinformation and misinformation.

Companies are committing to robust safeguards against harmful misinformation and disinformation that also protect privacy, freedom of expression and political communication.” Bose said.

The code has been developed by digital industry association, DIGI, and will be overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Participating companies commit to releasing an annual transparency report about their efforts to improve understanding of online misinformation and disinformation in Australia, with the first set of reports to be released in May.

“People misleading others, or people being misinformed, are not new problems - but the digital era means that false information can spread faster and wider than before,” she said.

For platforms that offer advertising, there’s a commitment to address disinformation in paid content. The code also contains commitments to address fake bots and accounts that spread disinformation, and other commitments to help Australians know more about the source of content they see online, in both news and factual content, and political advertising. The code encourages the digital industry to partner with universities and researchers.

The Code was developed in response to the Australian Government policy announced in December 2019, where the digital industry was asked to develop a voluntary code of practice on disinformation, drawing learnings from a similar code in the European Union. Unlike the EU code, the Australian code has an expanded focus on harmful misinformation, as well foundational commitments that all signatories must adopt. But like the EU code, it offers additional opt-in commitments that companies can choose if they’re relevant to their business.

DIGI developed the code with assistance from the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition, and First Draft, a global organisation that specialises in helping societies overcome false and misleading information. “First Draft analysed the latest case studies and trends in Australia to help inform this code, as tools and techniques used to produce and distribute misinformation and disinformation have evolved rapidly in the past year

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation recognises the need to work transparently in conjunction with all stakeholders, as there is much work to be done together in order to help communities thrive online,” said First Draft APAC director, Anne Kruger.

The government has welcomed the new industry code, but pointed out that as a voluntary code it will be monitoring how it is adopted and applied.

“We’ve all seen the damage that online disinformation can cause, particularly among vulnerable groups,” Minister Fletcher said. “This has been especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Morrison Government will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective in providing safeguards against the serious harms that arise from the spread of disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms.”

ACMA will report to government no later than 30 June 2021 on initial compliance with the code and its effectiveness in responding to the problems identified by the ACCC in its Digital Platforms Inquiry.

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