Australia's media regulator will be able to force internet companies to provide internal data about how they have handled misinformation and disinformation, the latest measure by the country's government to crack down on Big Tech.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also be able to enforce an Internet industry code on uncooperative platforms, the federal government said on Monday, joining governments around the world seeking to reduce the spread of harmful falsehoods online.
The planned laws are a response to an ACMA report that found four-fifths of Australian adults had experienced misinformation about COVID-19 and 76 percent thought online platforms should do more to cut the amount of false and misleading content shared online.
The laws broadly align with efforts by Europe to curb damaging online content, which are due to take effect by the end of 2022, although the European Union has said it wants even tougher measures to stop disinformation given some claims by Russian state-owned media during the invasion of Ukraine.
The crackdown also comes as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces what is expected to be a tight federal election next month, with his conservative Liberal Party-led coalition currently lagging the main opposition Labor Party in the polls.
"Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears," Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.
Australians were most likely to see misinformation on larger services like Meta's Facebook and Twitter Inc, the ACMA report said. False narratives typically started with "highly emotive and engaging posts within small online conspiracy groups" and were "amplified by international influencers, local public figures, and by coverage in the media", it added.
The report also noted disinformation, which involves intentionally spreading false information to influence politics or sow discord, was continuing to target Australians. Facebook had removed four disinformation campaigns in Australia from 2019 to 2020, it said.
The report noted conspiracy groups often urged people to join smaller platforms with looser moderation policies, like Telegram. If those platforms rejected industry-set content guidelines, "they may present a higher risk to the Australian community", ACMA said.
DIGI, an Australian industry body representing Facebook, Alphabet's Google, Twitter and video site TikTok, said it supported the recommendations and noted it had already set up a system to process complaints about misinformation.
© Thomson Reuters 2022