Monday, 22 February 2021 15:04

Digi launches code of practice on disinformation; Reset Australia rejects as 'pointless' Featured


Reset Australia describes the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation newly promulgated by Digi – the body representing several of the digital giants – as "pointless".

The Digital Industry Group (Digi) representing Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Redbubble, and TikTok in Australia today published its Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation [PDF] as its response to the Commonwealth Government's request for a voluntary code.

"Voluntary" means it is up to operators to opt in to the code. There seems to be no limit on the amount of time operators can take to respond to complaints, and the code does not require operators to delete or prevent access to material determined to be misleading, deceptive or fake.

So perhaps it is not surprising that Reset Australia – the local affiliate of the global initiative working to counter digital threats to democracy – describes the code as "pointless".

Reset Australia, which was involved in the consultation process for the code, further characterises it as "wholly inadequate."

Executive director Chris Cooper said "This limp, toothless, opt-in code of practice is both pointless and shameless. It does nothing but reinforce the arrogance of giants like Facebook.

"This code attempts to suggest it can help 'empower consumers to make better informed choices,' when the real problem is the algorithms used by Facebook and others actively promote disinformation, because that's what keeps users engaged.

"Any voluntary, opt-in code is inherently untrustworthy because we know it's not in the business interests of these platforms to take real action on misinformation.

"The laughable thing about this code is that even if platforms choose to opt in, they can choose which provisions they have to follow. And then if it starts hurting their bottom line, all the have to do is pull out.

"This is a regulatory regime that would be laughed out of town if suggested by any other major industry."

Reset Australia is calling for an independent public regulator with the power to inspect and audit algorithms, and issue fines, notices and other civil penalties. This seems to be a reference to the way the ACCC operates.

"It's ludicrous to have the peak body for Big Tech regulating itself," said Cooper.

"There is zero reason we can't proceed to this level of regulation in line with other industries," he added. "If we can regulate the pharmaceutical industry or aviation, we can regulate digital platforms."

"Leaving regulation to the whims of the platform's industry association would be comical. Industry should never be allowed to just write its own rules."

However, successive governments have been happy to allow that, and sometimes appear to prefer to reserve the threat of regulation as a way to encourage industry groups to self-regulate in ways that are at least minimally acceptable.

For instance, the Food and Grocery Code is a voluntary code, while the Franchising Code is mandatory.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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