'Keep Australia safe': Dystopian draft bill against 'misinformation' unveiled

A draft bill from the Australian government is warning tech and social media giants to remove misinformation from their platforms or be prepared to pay up big fines.

The new draft bill would see the country’s media regulator — the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) — armed with the power to make it obligatory for digital platforms such as Google and Facebook to maintain records concerning misinformation and disinformation on their platforms.

These companies would be required to hand these records over anytime the ACMA asks.

Additionally, the ACMA would be able to request and enforce an industry-wide “code of practice” that introduces new measures to combat misinformation. The ACMA would be able to create and implement its own industry standard.

Any breach of this proposed new standard would see tech giants pay a steep maximum penalty with fines of up to $4.6 million ($6.88 million AUD) or 5% of global turnover. For perspective, 5% of Facebook parent company Meta’s global turnover amounts to approximately $5.3 billion ($8 billion AUD).

According to a June 26 ABC report, Federal Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the current Labor government “is committed to keeping Australians safe online.”

The new bill will ensure “the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis and disinformation on their services,” according to Rowland.

Rowland added the bill would allow for the AMCA “to look under the hood of what the platforms are doing and what measures they are taking to ensure compliance.”

Some are concerned the proposed legislation may have a significant impact on freedom of speech, especially considering the bill’s definition of misinformation — which remains open to interpretation.

The draft bill defines misinformation as “unintentionally false, misleading or deceptive content. Disinformation is defined as “misinformation intentionally disseminated to cause serious harm.”

David Coleman, Shadow Minister for Communications from the opposing Liberal Party raised his concerns, stating that “this is a complex area of policy and government overreach must be avoided”.

“[The] public will want to know exactly who decides whether a particular piece of content is misinformation or disinformation,” he added.

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Public consultation for the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 ends Sunday, Aug. 6.

The Australian government has been pushing hard to bring tech giants to heel for some time. On Aug. 12, Google coughed up a $40 million ($60 million AUD) fine for misleading Australian consumers about data collection.

In February 2021, Facebook temporarily banned Australian users from viewing or sharing news content on their newsfeeds after conflict with the government escalated over proposed media bargaining laws.

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