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Facebook. Picture: REUTERS
Facebook. Picture: REUTERS

Sydney — A tech body backed by the Australian units of Facebook, Google and Twitter said on Monday it has set up a special committee to adjudicate complaints over misinformation, a day after the government threatened tougher laws over false and defamatory online posts.

The issue of damaging online posts has emerged as a second battlefront between Big Tech and Australia, which last year passed a law to make platforms pay licence fees for content, sparking a temporary Facebook blackout in February.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week labelled social media “a coward’s palace, while the government said on Sunday it is looking at measures to make social media companies more responsible, including forcing legal liability onto the platforms for the content published on them.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (Digi), which represents the Australian units of Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Twitter, said its new misinformation oversight subcommittee shows the industry is willing to self-regulate against damaging posts.

The tech giants had already agreed a code of conduct against misinformation, “and we wanted to further strengthen it with independent oversight from experts, and public accountability”, Digi MD Sunita Bose said.

A three-person “independent complaints subcommittee” would seek to resolve complaints about possible breaches of the code conduct via a public website, Digi said, but would not take complaints about individual posts.

The industry’s code of conduct includes items such as taking action against misinformation affecting public health, which would include the novel coronavirus.

Digi, which also counts Apple and TikTok as signatories, said it could issue a public statement if a company was found to have violated the code of conduct or revoke its signatory status with the group.

Australian communications minister Paul Fletcher, who has been among senior lawmakers promising tougher action against platforms hosting misleading and defamatory content, welcomed the measure.

“I’m pleased that Digi is announcing an important development to strengthen the way the code will protect Australians from misinformation and disinformation,” he said.

But Reset Australia, an advocate group focused on the influence of technology on democracy, said the oversight panel is “laughable” as it involves no penalties and the code of conduct is optional.

“Digi’s code is not much more than a PR stunt given the negative PR surrounding Facebook in recent weeks,” said Reset Australia director of tech policy Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran, urging regulation for the industry.



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