Timely tech sector code on disinformation
The more DIGI engaged with the research, in order to ensure the code was evidence-based and reflected community expectations, the more it became apparent that the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ mean very different things to different people.
That’s why we sought advice from our academic and civil society partners at the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition and at First Draft, a global organisation that specialises in helping societies overcome false and misleading information.
First Draft’s Clare Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan have written: “Politicians have forever made unrealistic promises during election campaigns. Corporations have always nudged people away from thinking about issues in particular ways. And the media has long disseminated misleading stories for their shock value. However, the complexity and scale of information pollution in our digitally connected world presents an unprecedented challenge.”
Put another way, people misleading others – or people being misinformed – are not new problems. But companies signing this code want to reduce the risk of online misinformation causing harm to Australians. They also want to protect the privacy, freedom of expression and political communication Australians expect when they use digital services to express themselves or debate ideas.
We believe we have struck the right balance with this code.
Every company that signs it commits to safeguards to protect against online disinformation and misinformation. They commit to publishing and implementing policies on their approach, and providing a way for their users to report content that may violate those policies.
They also commit to adopting a range of scalable measures that reduce its spread and visibility, such as content labelling and removal, restricting inauthentic accounts and behaviours, partnerships with fact-checking organisations, and technology to help people to check the authenticity of digital content.
Every signatory commits to publicly releasing an annual transparency report about all of their efforts under the disinformation code, and the first set of these will be released in May.
The Government asked the digital industry to draw learnings from the European Union Code of Practice on Disinformation. The EU code provides an opt-in model to reflect the highly diverse nature of the digital industry, allowing different businesses to focus on the aspects of so-called “information disorder” where they are best placed to contribute. Unlike the EU, the Australian code has an expanded focus on harmful misinformation, as well as the foundational commitments explained above that all signatories must adopt. Like the EU, it offers some additional commitments that companies can choose if they’re relevant to their business.
For platforms that offer advertising, for example, there’s a commitment to address disinformation in paid content, which won’t be relevant to services that are funded through a subscription model. There’s a commitment to address fake bots and accounts that spread disinformation. And other commitments to help Australians know more about the source of content they see online, in both news and factual content, and political advertising.
The code encourages the digital industry to partner with universities and researchers which, together with the transparency reports, will go a long way to improving public understanding and addressing misinformation and disinformation over time.
We’ve consulted the public, the government and experts. A policy solution to these difficult issues isn’t easy. This code is a timely response to a complex issue of public concern, and provides a blueprint for best practice.
Sunita Bose is the Managing Director of the Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI).