Under new rules bolstering government efforts to rein in Big Tech, Australia’s media regulator will be able to compel internet corporations to divulge data on how they handled misinformation and disinformation.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also be empowered to enforce an internet industry code on recalcitrant platforms, the government announced on Monday, joining efforts by governments around the world to combat the spread of harmful lies online.
The proposed legislation is in response to an ACMA research that revealed four-fifths of Australian adults had been misled about COVID-19, and 76 percent said online platforms should do more to reduce the quantity of false and misleading content online.
The laws broadly align with European efforts to curb harmful online content, which are set to take effect by the end of 2022. However, given some of the output from Russian state-owned media during the invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has said it wants even tougher measures to stop disinformation.
In a statement, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher stated, “Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when dangerous or false content surfaces.”
The ACMA found that larger services like Meta Platforms’ Facebook (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) were the most likely to spread false material to Australians.
False narratives often began with “very emotive and engaging posts within small online conspiracy groups,” according to the report, and were “amplified by foreign influencers, local public figures, and media coverage.”
The authority also stated that misinformation, or the deliberate dissemination of false information in order to influence politics or foment strife, was still targeting Australians. From 2019 to 2020, Facebook announced it has taken down four disinformation efforts in Australia.
According to the report, conspiracy groups frequently encourage people to join smaller platforms with laxer moderation procedures, such as Telegram. The ACMA warned that if those platforms refused to follow industry-set content restrictions, “they may pose a greater risk to the Australian community.”
The crackdown adds to the current conservative government’s claim that it has taken a tough stance against tech behemoths, as it prepares for an election in May that most polls predict it will lose.
Fletcher stated that the expanded powers for the regulator would be submitted to parliament in late 2022, implying that if the government loses the election, it would be up to the current opposition Labor party to guide them through.
The opposition backed the additional powers, according to a representative for Labor’s shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, who told Reuters that the government had taken too long to implement them after they were recommended in 2019.
DIGI, which represents Facebook, Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Twitter, and video site TikTok in Australia, said it backed the proposals and that it had already put up a framework to handle complaints about misinformation.