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26 Jun, 2023 16:46

Australia mulls ‘fake news’ fines for Big Tech

Failure to moderate “misinformation” could hit social media giants in their pockets under a government proposal in Canberra
Australia mulls ‘fake news’ fines for Big Tech

Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook could be hit with substantial fines under new draft legislation from the Australian government to crack down on the spread of “misinformation” and fake news on their platforms, The Age reported.

Under the proposal put forth by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), social media companies will be required to keep records showing their efforts to curb the spread of such information online. Repeated failures to do so could see them facing fixed fines numbering in the millions of dollars.

“Mis- and disinformation sows division within the community, undermines trust and can threaten public safety,” Canberra’s communications minister Michelle Rowland said on Sunday. She added that “the Albanese government is committed to keeping Australians safe online.”

Under the government proposal, the ACMA would be entitled to impose a new “code” of practice on social media platforms that repeatedly demonstrate an inability to monitor the spread of fake news on their services. It would also establish an industry-wide ‘standard’ to force the removal of certain content, requiring more robust methods to identify misinformation and an increased use of fact-checkers.

Systemic breaches of the code would see a company liable to a maximum fine of AUS $2.75 million (US $1.83 million) or 2% of global turnover – whichever is higher. The maximum penalty for breaking an industry ‘standard’ would be AUS $6.88 million (US $4.6 million) or 5% of global turnover.

A hypothetical fine under the latter terms for Facebook’s parent company Meta would amount to around AUS $8 billion (US $5.35 million), The Age daily noted.

The EU imposed similar rules governing social-media content last year which also saw social media companies liable for fines linked to annual global turnover.

Under the proposed legislation the government in Canberra would not have a role in determining which content online constitutes “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Rowland stressed that the law is designed to “strike the right balance” between curbing fake news and protecting freedom of speech online.

The powers will also not apply to standalone pieces of content, official electoral information and professional news services. Google had previously removed around 3,000 videos uploaded to YouTube from Australia which spread what it referred to as dangerous or misleading information related to Covid-19.

The proposed legislation was published on Saturday and is currently out for public consultation, which Rowland said was an opportunity for Australians and social media companies to air any objections to it.

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