Amid objections, Australia to revise misinformation bill

After receiving significant criticism against the idea, the Albanese government has decided to revise misinformation bill–a draft measure that targets false information and disinformation that may be found online.

In addition to this, the legislation will not be introduced into parliament until the year 2024.

The proposed piece of legislation, which was made available for public comment at the beginning of this year, would have authorized the Australian Communications and Media Authority to demand that social media companies tighten their policies regarding “content that is false, misleading, or deceptive, and where the provision of that content on the service is reasonably likely to cause or contribute to serious harm.”

The survey received a total of 23,000 replies, including 3,000 contributions, many of which voiced opposition to the proposed legislation. The overwhelming response was partly a result of opposition efforts launched against the measure by the Coalition, One Nation, and a former member of the LNP’s parliamentary party named George Christensen.

The intention was to endow Acma with expanded authority so that it could more effectively enforce a voluntary industry code that is currently in effect and is adhered to by numerous businesses, including Meta, X (previously Twitter), Microsoft, and Google.

The reaction to the bill was that it would limit expression online and that it would not protect religious speech in particular. This was the main concern.

Those who were against it stated that businesses would excessively suppress material in order to avoid being penalized by Acma, which would obtain the power to gather information and could also fine individuals and businesses for presenting false evidence during this process for a maximum of $6.875 million or 5% of their global turnover.

Michelle Rowland, the minister of communications, stated on Sunday that the government would “improve the bill” by taking into account the feedback received during the public consultation.

“The government is considering making some changes to the bill in order to improve it. These changes could, among other things, pertain to definitions, exemptions, or clarification on religious freedom.”

She stated that the government was still dedicated to “holding powerful digital platforms accountable for seriously harmful misinformation and disinformation that is on their services.”

It is not an option to do nothing in the face of seriously destructive content that sows division, undermines support for foundations of our democracy, or hampers responses related to public health.

Acma chair Nerida O’Loughlin stated at Senate estimates a month ago that under the proposed legislation, the organization would not force companies to remove specific pieces of content but rather focus on the systems the company has in place to combat misinformation. This is according to what Acma chair said.

“Are there established procedures and methods for using the digital platforms? Are they maintaining adherence to such processes and systems? Are the choices that they’ve made on what they’re going to do with various pieces of info explained in a clear and understandable manner?

“Rather than focusing on the content, we’ll be looking at questions of this nature,” you may hear us say.

The voluntary code was developed during the previous administration of Scott Morrison as a result of an inquiry into digital platforms conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Prior to the 2022 election, the Coalition made a promise to pass legislation that would give Acma the authority “to hold big tech firms to account for very harmful content on its platforms.”

The department in question had not started writing a bill prior to the election.

However, since that time, the Coalition has taken a stance against the measure, arguing that the model proposed by Labor is not one that the opposition would propose. David Coleman, who serves as the shadow minister for communications, stated on Sunday that despite the amendments that have been presented, the Coalition continues to be “fundamentally opposed” to the measure.

Coleman stated that the suggested amendments do not deal with major concerns in the legislation, including exempting the government from the proposed legislation. This is despite the fact that the government has not provided any particular details about the specific adjustments that will be made to the bill.

Just.Equal Australia, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ equality, has criticized the decision made by the government to provide a religious exception.

“There are already mountains of harmful misinformation and disinformation about LGBTIQA+ people in the public domain,” said a spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community named Sally Goldner. “A religious exemption in the proposed legislation will just make this worse by sending the message that such misinformation and disinformation is OK if it is dressed up as religious doctrine,” Goldner added.

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