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(AUSTRALIA) Industry Code Report: Tech companies including Facebook and Google have released the final version of a long-awaited industry code to address the spread of misinformation on their services #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Feb.22: The release comes only days after Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing “news content” on its platform, leading experts to predict that misinformation would spread more rapidly in the news vacuum.

‘Facebook, Google, Twitter release industry code to fight spread of disinformation and to block all those who disagree with the #Truth being read and heard’

ABC News: updated 6h ago

Play Video. Duration: 44 seconds
Sunita Bose explains what’s being done to limit spread of misinformation.

The code could change the experience of using social media in Australia, with more pop-up warnings about fake news, as well as better systems to report misinformation.

Misinformation is false or misleading information, and disinformation is the same, but spread with an intent to mislead. 

In December 2019, the Australian Government asked the digital industry to develop a code to address disinformation. A pandemic later, these companies, represented by the industry association DIGI, have now released a final version.

Under the code, which is voluntary, all signatories commit to develop and implement measures to deal with mis- and disinformation on their services. 

The current signatories are Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, TikTok and Redbubble (an online marketplace for user-submitted art).

The emphasis of the code is on outcomes rather than specific actions: signatories will choose how to best address misinformation on their service. 

The code gives examples of what they may do, including labelling false content, demoting the ranking of content, prioritising credible sources, suspension or disabling of accounts and removal of content.

The signatories will each publish an annual report on their progress.

The Australian media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which is tasked with overseeing the development of the code, criticised this lack of specific measures or targets when DIGI released a draft version of the code in October 2020. 

The ACMA has the power to recommend the government introduce mandatory regulation if the code isn’t up to scratch.

But commenting today on the release of the final version, which experts say is much the same as the draft one, the ACMA was broadly positive.

ACMA chairwoman Nerida O’Loughlin said she welcomed the code as a flexible and proportionate approach to dealing with mis- and disinformation online. 

“The code anticipates platforms’ actions will be graduated and proportionate to the risk of harm,” she said. 

“This will assist them to strike an appropriate balance between dealing with troublesome content and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

“Signatories will also publish an annual report and additional information on actions that they will take so that users know what to expect when they access these services.”

Government will be ‘watching carefully’ for action

The code also contains a range of non-mandatory objectives including having better systems for reporting incidents of misinformation, and disallowing fake news accounts from collecting advertising money.

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The final version of the code adds an extra objective that was not in the draft: to provide greater transparency about the source of political advertising on platforms. 

Facebook and Google already publish real-time data on how much money parties and other groups are spending on political ads.

Andrea Carson, an associate professor in communication at La Trobe University, said the code was a good start and the companies should be given a chance to show how they will address disinformation.

“It’s too premature to speak too much about it until we give the code a go and see how serious and sincere the companies are,” she said.

“The platforms are still teenagers and it’s taken a while for the laws to catch up and now we’re getting into that space.”

The ACMA will report to the government no later than 30 June 2021 on initial compliance with the code and its effectiveness.

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the government “will be watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective”.

The European Union oversaw the introduction of a voluntary industry code for disinformation in 2018, but is now looking at mandatory regulation.

A May 2020 independent review of the EU code found the self-regulatory nature of the agreement made it difficult for the platforms to be held to account for breaches in the code.

Reset Australia, an organisation working to counter digital threats to democracy, described the DIGI code as “pointless and shameless” and proposed in its place a public regulator with the power to issue fines and other penalties.

Reset Australia Executive Director Chris Cooper said companies such as Facebook were continuing to use algorithms that actively promote misinformation, despite committing to addressing the problem.

“This is a regulatory regime that would be laughed out of town if suggested by any other major industry,” he said.

“Industry should never be allowed to just write its own rules.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……..Published: Feb.21: 2021:

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