Australia grants media regulator new powers to combat online spread of misinformation
Australia grants media regulator new powers to combat online spread of misinformation

The Australian government granted Australia’s media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), new powers Monday to combat disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

ACMA is a regulatory government body that oversees communication and media services in Australia. As a part of their mission, the Australian Government asked ACMA to develop a code of practice to address online misinformation and disinformation. In the process of doing so, ACMA discovered digital platforms have inadequate processes for addressing and combating misinformation and disinformation on their sites. These findings were detailed in a June 2021 report.

At the same time ACMA was working to develop a code, in February 2021 an Australian non-profit industry association for the digital industry, known as DIGI, implemented the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation. The code sought to reduce the risk of online misinformation. It was voluntarily adopted by platforms like Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter.

Despite the implementation of DIGI’s code, the ACMA report still uncovered large amounts of misinformation on Australian digital platforms. In particular, the report found that four out of every five Australian adults saw misinformation about COVID-19. This percentage was higher among younger Australians, aged 18 to 25. Most of this misinformation was observed on large digital platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. According to the report, those who believe COVID-19 misinformation have lower levels of trust in doctors, which undermines public health efforts. However, 76 percent of Australians believe digital platforms should do more to reduce misinformation and disinformation online.

In response to ACMA’s findings, the government granted ACMA new regulatory powers to reign in misinformation and disinformation on large digital platforms. ACMA will now have the ability to request Australia-specific information and data on steps taken by digital platforms to address misinformation and disinformation. ACMA is also conducting a review of the code in conjunction with DIGI. DIGI said they welcome the ACMA findings and look forward to working together to improve misinformation and disinformation prevention and response in Australia.