From Watts Up With That?
Essay by Eric Worrall
No constitutional guarantee = free speech at the pleasure of politicians. But even the USA is at risk from attempts to shut down free speech.
Misinformation and disinformation pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of Australians, as well as to our democracy, society and economy.
In January 2023, the Minister for Communications announced that the Australian Government would introduce new laws to provide the independent regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), with new powers to combat online misinformation and disinformation.
The new powers will enable the ACMA to monitor efforts and require digital platforms to do more, placing Australia at the forefront in tackling harmful online misinformation and disinformation, while balancing freedom of speech.
The proposed powers would:
- enable the ACMA to gather information from digital platform providers, or require them to keep certain records about matters regarding misinformation and disinformation
- enable the ACMA to request industry develop a code of practice covering measures to combat misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms, which the ACMA could register and enforce
- allow the ACMA to create and enforce an industry standard (a stronger form of regulation), should a code of practice be deemed ineffective in combatting misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms.
The ACMA will not have the power to request specific content or posts be removed from digital platform services.
The ACMA powers will strengthen and support the existing voluntary framework established by the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation (the voluntary code), and will extend to non-signatories of the voluntary code.
These powers are consistent with the key recommendations in the ACMA’s June 2021 Report to government on the adequacy of digital platforms’ disinformation and news quality measures.
We want to hear your feedback on the proposed legislation. It’s easy to have your say—simply read the exposure draft Bill and the supporting documents and:
- Make a submission below by clicking the ‘Have your say’ button.
- Email us in writing, via video, or by sending an audio recording to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Guidance Note for the exposure draft Bill provides an explanation of the key parts of the Bill. For a short explanation of some of the Bill’s key elements, please see the fact sheet.
- Exposure Draft Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023
- Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023—guidance note
- Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023—fact sheet
New disinformation laws
21 March 2022
The Australian Government will introduce legislation this year to combat harmful disinformation and misinformation online.
The legislation will provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with new regulatory powers to hold big tech companies to account for harmful content on their platforms.
The new powers follow the release of a report by ACMA on the adequacy of digital platforms’ disinformation and news quality measures, including the effectiveness of the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation which was launched by industry in February 2021. The report highlights that disinformation and misinformation are significant and ongoing issues.
The growth of disinformation and misinformation erodes trust in democratic institutions and causes harm to individuals and businesses. Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, rampant disinformation and misinformation on social media undermined public health efforts to contain and treat the virus. More than 4 in 5 Australians reported having experienced COVID-19 misinformation in the 18 months to June 2021.
The new powers include:
- Information gathering powers which will incentivise greater platform transparency and improve access to Australia-specific data on the effectiveness of measures to address disinformation and misinformation
- Additional powers to register and enforce industry codes or make industry standards to encourage platforms to be ambitious in addressing the harms of disinformation and misinformation. These will provide ACMA with the ability to hold platforms to account should their voluntary efforts prove inadequate or untimely.
A Misinformation and Disinformation Action Group will be established, bringing together key stakeholders across government and the private sector to collaborate and share information on emerging issues and best practice responses.
The Government will consult on the scope of the new powers ahead of introducing legislation into the Parliament in the second half of 2022.
For more information on the report, visit www.acma.gov.au/report-government-adequacy-digital-platforms-disinformation-and-news-quality-measures Source: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/department/media/news/new-disinformation-laws
Although the draft laws seem a little vague about what the government believes constitutes disinformation, there seems little doubt climate skepticism will be included in the scope of these new laws. Federal Climate Minister Chris Bowen has indicated he thinks climate skeptic narratives are “fundamentally dishonest”.
Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen criticises ‘right-wing commentators’
Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has taken aim at “right-wing commentators” in Australia.
Australian “right-wing commentators” are pedalling a “fundamentally dishonest narrative” about the energy crisis in Europe, a Labor cabinet minister has said.
Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said he’d “seen plenty” of these people attempting to blame energy shocks in the wake of the Ukraine war on a too-rapid transition to renewables.
“The price of gas in Europe is around nine times that of renewables, and yet some geniuses argue the problem is too much reliance on renewables,” Mr Bowen said on Monday.
“This is the latest catchcry of those who seek to deny and delay action in Australia, like we haven’t had enough denial and delay in Australia over the last ten years.”
The obvious premise behind these laws, that the government or government appointed experts have the wisdom to decide what constitutes disinformation, is absurd.
Look at the embarrassment Facebook faced when they had to backflip on censoring Covid lab leak theories, after Fauci hinted that a lab leak was a possibility.
Update on May 26, 2021 at 3:30PM PT:
In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps. We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.
Were people wrong to suggest Covid might have leaked from a lab, until Fauci gave permission to discuss this possibility?
Imagine a future where people like Fauci or Bowen decide what constitutes a legitimate public conversation, in all aspects of public life. Because that is where Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, and perhaps even the USA are headed, if we don’t start pushing back against these ill considered attempts to constrain our freedom.
Companies like Facebook are dancing a fine line between legitimate content moderation and editorialising. Nobody wants social media sites full of obscene and criminal sexualised underage material, with anti-censorship laws so strict that social media companies are powerless to remove such filth. Yet at the same time there are legitimate arguments that heavy handed social media censorship is already impeding the right of US citizens to enjoy their constitutional guarantee of free speech.
Social media companies are very much the town square of today’s world. This especially applied during the recent Covid lockdown, when people were prohibited from socialising in person – an issue which I believe has not received sufficient recognition.
Of course, US citizens enjoy protections which Australians do not. Australians, unlike Americans, have no constitutional free speech guarantee, so we are a lot more vulnerable to these kinds of encroachments on our freedom.
Australians have been invited to comment on these proposed laws. I urge all Australians to respond, and to contact your federal MP and Senators, to tell them exactly what we think of politicians trying to constrain our freedom to share our opinions with our fellows.