To address the current era dominated by misinformation and disinformation, the Australian Government has introduced the draft Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023. If implemented, this legislation would grant businesses new powers to combat harmful misinformation and disinformation online and impose substantial penalties on non-compliant digital platforms.
Misinformation or Disinformation?
The draft bill distinguishes between misinformation and disinformation based on ‘intent’. Misinformation refers to false or misleading content shared without an intent to deceive but likely to cause serious harm. Disinformation, a subset of misinformation, is content deliberately disseminated to deceive or cause harm.
Defining Digital Platform Services for Businesses
The draft bill proposes to add a new schedule of provisions pertaining to digital platform services to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth), the legislation that established the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). According to the Bill ‘digital services’ include content aggregation, connective media, media sharing, and other specified digital services. The bill specifically excludes internet, SMS, or MMS service providers, ensuring that traditional communication services remain unaffected.
Why is there a need for regulation?
The Australian Government recognises the urgent need to tackle the surge of misinformation and disinformation that has plagued businesses operating on digital platforms. The draft legislation comes as a response to the challenges highlighted by the 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry conducted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The widespread circulation of false or misleading content has created an ‘infodemic’ that negatively impacts businesses across various sectors, prompting the government to take action.
What measures is this bill proposing?
The draft bill marks a significant shift from the current self-regulation practices adopted by digital platforms. It empowers the ACMA with new and enhanced powers. These powers include:
- Collaborating with relevant authorities to address misinformation and disinformation concerns.
- Developing ‘misinformation codes’ – industry-specific practices to combat misinformation, which ACMA can register and enforce.
- Establishing ‘misinformation standards’ for stronger regulation when self-regulation falls short.
What happens if my business breaches these changes?
For misinformation to be covered by the Draft Bill, it must be ‘reasonably likely that it would cause or contribute to serious harm’. The draft bill defines ‘serious harm’ as having severe and far-reaching impacts on businesses. Examples include inciting hatred, damaging critical communications infrastructure, causing significant financial or economic harm, or posing threats to health.
Non-compliant digital platforms face substantial penalties, up to 5% of their global turnover or AUD$6.88 million for corporations, and $1.38 million for individuals.
What happens next?
The draft bill is open for consultation until 6 August 2023. The government seeks feedback from businesses and industry stakeholders to fine-tune the legislation and ensure its effectiveness.
- The Australian Government has introduced the draft Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023.
- The draft bill proposes to add provisions pertaining to digital platform services to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth).
- The draft bill proposes new powers for ACMA to address misinformation and disinformation.
- Non-compliant digital platforms can face substantial penalties.