Google, Facebook-backed group slams Australian regulator's recommendations on fake news, take-downs

Google, Facebook-backed group slams Australian regulator's recommendations on fake news, take-downs

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo from files of Facebook Google and Twitter logos
FILE PHOTO: Facebook, Google and Twitter logos are seen in this combination photo from Reuters files. REUTERS/File Photos/File Photo

SINGAPORE: A digital industry group co-founded by US tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter has slammed the recommendations made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to tighten control over these online platforms.

Digital Industry Group (DIGI), a not-for-profit group that represents the country’s digital industry, on Thursday (Sep 12) took issue with eight out of 23 recommendations in the ACCC’s final Digital Platforms Inquiry report. 

It said that it was “concerned” the final report deviated from the original terms of reference of the report. This may have “unintended consequences” for a wide range of digital service providers, DIGI managing director Sunita Bose said.

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The ACCC had released its report in July and made 23 recommendations, including a mandatory take-down code to assist copyright enforcement and a code of conduct for digital platforms to counter disinformation.

For instance, ACCC said the industry code of conduct to handle complaints about disinformation in relation to news and journalism should be enforced by an independent regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The industry group, however, pointed out that a one-size-fits-all industry code of conduct is “problematic”. For example, an appropriate intervention on one platform such as partnerships with third-party fact-checkersmay be too costly and "unscalable" for another,it said.

ACCC also stated that “it should avoid the government directly determining the trustworthiness, quality and value of news and journalism sources”.

To this, DIGI said the regulator is effectively putting that burden on digital platforms. They would also be subject to ACMA’s ruling should people unsatisfied with the platforms’ handling about disinformation or mal-information, turning the regulator into essentially a “truth verification body”.


Another recommendation by the ACCC was to establish and implement a mandatory industry code to govern the take-down processes of digital platforms operating in Australia.

Some of the issues included are “reasonable timeframes” for removing infringing content, particularly time-sensitive ones like live commercial broadcasts, and for bulk notifications to address repeated infringements of the same content.

DIGI said the proposed mandatory industry code would represent a “significant departure” from the globally accepted legal standards and norms for issuing take-down notices.

“The globally accepted standard requires online service providers to respond ‘expeditiously’ to disable access to the material that is claimed to be infringing upon notification,” it said, adding the “expeditious” requirement is already enshrined in law in numerous other jurisdictions.

The group also pointed out the ACCC has not provided “substantive evidence” of a problem that requires such a drastic solution.

“Mandatory codes with high sanctions for errors will result in a take-down regime that encourages platforms to remove first and ask questions later, making it too risky for platforms to attempt to protect the legitimate speech interests of ordinary Australians, at the expense of Australians’ public dialogue and free expression,” DIGI said.

Bose urged the Australian government to fully consider the unintended consequences of the recommendations and undertake broader consultation with the digital industry, as well as other affected industries, before any major reform is announced.

Australia is one of several countries reviewing or recently changed laws to better tackle the issue of misinformation spread through online platforms.

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Singapore, for instance, passed its law addressing deliberate online falsehoods in May. With it, a Cabinet minister can take a range of actions from issuing corrections to take-down orders to Internet service providers and social media platforms to tackle the online falsehood.

The law also includes a codes of practice for prescribed Internet players, and it targets areas like the abuse of inauthentic online accounts, transparency of digital ads and algorithmic ranking of falsehoods. Details will be set out in subsidiary legislation, the Law Ministry said.

Source: CNA/kk(hm)