Consultation opens on online misinformation laws

Federal Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, has announced the opening of a public consultation on new laws aimed at tackling online misinformation and disinformation.

The proposed powers are expected to bring greater transparency and enable communications regulator ACMA to hold digital platforms to account if they are found to be disseminating harmful misinformation.

According to the Minister, the draft legislation will provide stakeholders the opportunity to review proposed ACMA information-gathering, record-keeping, code registration and standard-making powers “to compel digital platforms to do more to protect Australians”.

The proposed framework will focus on “systemic issues which pose a risk of harm on digital platforms” and will not empower the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) to determine what is true or false or to remove individual content or posts.

This means that the code and standard-making powers will not apply to professional news content or authorised electoral content, and platforms will continue to be responsible for the content they host and promote to users.

However, if platforms fail to act to combat misinformation and disinformation over time, ACMA would be able to draw on its reserve powers to register enforceable industry codes, with significant penalties for non-compliance, or create a standard requiring platforms to lift the bar on their efforts.

The Minister also said that these codes and standards might include practicable measures, such as tools that will enable users to identify and report disinformation, manage complaints handling and enable more extensive fact-checking.

The powers are built upon and are intended to strengthen and support the voluntary code developed by the Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI).

“This consultation process gives industry and the public the opportunity to have their say on the proposed framework, which aims to strike the right balance between protection from harmful mis and disinformation online and freedom of speech,” Minister Rowland said.

Public consultation will close on Sunday, 6 August, with legislation expected to be introduced into Parliament later this year.