Facebook and the Disinformation Debate in Australia

“We commissioned an independent expert to develop reporting best practice guidelines which resulted in significant improvements in the second set of transparency reports, including the release of more Australian data,” said Sunita Bose, CEO of DIGI. “Code signers all offer very different products, so being able to draw meaningful comparisons between different digital platforms will always be a difficult task.

“The guidelines aim to encourage signatories to make improvements within their services over time, and the public publication of annual transparency reports helps to account for this effort.”

Facebook’s disclosure was noted in a section of its “coordinated inauthentic behavior” report, which is “generally designed to mislead people about who is behind an operation to manipulate public debate for a strategic purpose.”

Sunita Bose represents major social media and technology companies. She argues that the code has increased transparency.Credit:Edwina Pickles

Reports from other companies, which are the product of a voluntary industry-adopted misinformation code, show the extent of false coronavirus claims circulating online.

Video social media network TikTok, for example, has revealed a rapid acceleration in its removals of Australian medical misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic, peaking at almost 4,500 deleted videos in the month of September 2021.

Between January and June last year, Twitter removed 1,028 Australian posts containing misinformation about COVID-19 and suspended 35 local accounts. YouTube has removed around 5,000 videos that violated its rules on dangerous or misleading COVID-19 content.

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But those numbers don’t usually show how many people viewed the content before it was pulled, how quickly it was identified, how many others were flagged but not pulled, or what exactly was removed to allow for a debate on the moderation systems of each company.

Jake Wallis, who heads the disinformation program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the process of self-reporting transparency was a good first step, but challenges remained. Dr. Wallis and his colleagues at ASPI’s Center for Cyberpolitics, which is sponsored by companies such as Google and Meta, exposed the financially motivated disinformation campaign that hit the 2019 federal election.

“Metrics are ambiguous and difficult to measure for government and industry,” Wallis said. “How much deleted content is the right amount?” How does the industry define Australia-specific performance metrics on the platforms through which transnational networks run? »

Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia, an advocacy group critical of tech giants, is scathing about the transparency reports.

“Many of the numbers and facts described in the report are designed to sound impressive, but they lack transparency and meaningful context,” said Cooper, whose organization receives support from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s foundation and from progressive consultancy Purpose.

“Ultimately, we are beholden to the offshore digital behemoths to decide how they will handle the threat. It’s a level of self-regulation that we don’t accept from any other industry.

In contrast, the Libertarian Institute of Public Affairs has spoken out against proposals to let the ACMA regulate disinformation, saying it risks turning the authority into “Canberra’s thought police”.

In a letter to MPs sent last month, the IPA argued that the Government should not be in charge of deciding whether things like political claims constituted ‘misinformation’ and that it should be up to the public to make up their minds. his own opinion.

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“The idea that debate must be suppressed to protect against damage to ‘democratic processes’ is a draconian and arrogant assumption that belongs to George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty fournot in a true liberal democratic society,” wrote IPA Legal Rights Program Director Morgan Begg.

In a survey published by DIGI, research firm Resolve Strategic asked Australians about their views on misinformation and found little consensus among people with different political affinities on what the term equates to. In one example, survey respondents split when asked about a report in The Guardian on the catastrophic effects of climate change.

DIGI’s code was bolstered last October by an independent board to oversee guidelines and deal with serious breaches. An independent expert, Hal Crawford, was hired to verify the transparency reports.

In a statement sent by DIGI, Crawford said the 2022 reports were an iterative step from those of last year. In addition to the Australian data, the reports outline steps such as fact-checking, information centers and warning notices that the tech giants have implemented. They also contain detailed global statistics.

DIGI now plans to go even further. It seeks feedback from academics and the public on ways to improve the code. Meanwhile, the government is considering how best to tackle the problem.

New Communications Minister Michelle Rowland has accused the previous coalition government of waiting years to begin defining the powers of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to tackle disinformation. “The regulator does not have the power to investigate or demand information from digital platforms about how they deal with misinformation and misinformation in Australia, so there is an important role for regulation in this area,” Rowland said. The Sydney Morning Herald and age.

Former communications minister Paul Fletcher unveiled plans in March to introduce laws that would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority more power to discipline tech companies that fail to meet the standards of their voluntary code. . Rowland did not explicitly state whether she would give the ACMA these information-gathering powers, which would allow her to legally request tech platforms to hand over information about the handling of complaints, the issues they are being handled on and engagement with harmful content.

In a statement, a spokesman for the authority said it asked the government for reserve powers to enforce compliance with industry codes nearly a year ago.

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