Submission: Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation Online

In January, the Minister for Communications announced that the Australian Government would introduce new laws to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with new powers to combat online misinformation and disinformation. The draft bill was open for public feedback from 20 June to 20 August 2023.

Read the draft bill and the public submissions here.

In our submission, Digital Rights Watch highlights a handful concerns and of areas for improvement, including:

  • The importance of privacy law reform. In our view, strong privacy reform that favours the rights of users over data extractive business models is central to tackling mis- and dis- information. This is because the commercial exploitation of individual privacy is a key driver of the business models of digital platforms that encourages the production and spread of divisive and controversial content.
  • The mechanism for the development of Codes risks the abrogation of democratic policy making. While Codes bring with them flexibility and responsiveness, this ought not be prioritised above accountability.
  • The definition of harm is too broad. In particular, we are concerned that instances such as content that promotes protests or is for the purpose of holding police accountable for violent or discriminatory practices may fall within the current definition of harm.
  • The ACMA’s powers in relation to misinformation codes and misinformation standards should be limited by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Currently, the draft requires the ACMA to consider any burden on the implied freedom of political communication. We propose that it should require that the ACMA be satisfied that any codes are compliant with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • The ACMA’s powers to require digital platforms to keep records should come with the responsibility to report on these records publicly. The draft currently gives the ACMA the option to publish certain information obtained from digital platform providers, but it makes no obligation to do so. We want a public reporting requirement to increase transparency and allow public scrutiny of platform efforts to address mis- and dis- information.
  • The exclusion of professional news content from the definition of mis- and dis- information is problematic. Mis- and dis- information exist and spread within a complex media environment, and that includes mainstream media organisations.

Read our submission in full below, or download a PDF here.