By Daniel Y. Teng
Elon Musk’s Twitter and other social media giants face the prospect of billions in fines after the Australian government published new laws against “disinformation and misinformation.”
After a months-long process, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland released the bill that will give the country’s media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), greater powers to crack down on harmful content. online.
“Misinformation and misinformation sow division within the community, undermine trust, and can threaten public health and safety,” the Minister of Labor Communications said in a June 26 statement.
“This consultation process gives industry and the public an opportunity to have their say on the proposed framework, which aims to strike the right balance between protection against harmful online disinformation and freedom of expression.
The government has pledged that the ACMA will not have the power to determine what is “true or false” in individual posts and will not impact “professional news content or authorized election content.”
New standards and sanctions
The Communications Legislation (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Amendment Bill 2023 introduces a two-tier system for regulating misinformation or disinformation online.
At the first level, ACMA will request social media companies to develop a code of practice (industry codes), which will be recorded and enforced by ACMA, similar to the telecommunications industry.
Violation of this code will result in significant penalties, including a fine of $2.75 million or two percent of global turnover, whichever is greater.
If the code fails, the second level of regulation will have the ACMA itself create and enforce an industry standard (a stricter form of regulation) that will attract even larger fines of $6.8 million or five percent of global turnover. : millions for Twitter and billions for companies. like Meta (Facebook).
These laws are intended to strengthen existing voluntary codes developed by the Digital Industry Group.
The federal opposition has raised concerns about how the ACMA will determine what is “misinformation or disinformation.”
“This is a complex area of policy and government overreach must be avoided,” said David Coleman, the shadow communications minister.
“The public will want to know exactly who decides whether particular content is ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation.’
“The significant penalties associated with this legislation potentially place substantial power in the hands of government officials,” it said in a statement. online statement.
While former deputy chief medical officer Dr. Nick Coatsworth, who has had public disagreements with other doctors over stay-at-home policies and vaccines, was also skeptical of the laws.
“Disinformation is such an easily launched accusation that such legislation would be impossible to implement; and if implemented, it would inevitably lead to fines being imposed for things that are not, or turn out not to be,” he wrote. On twitter.
The public is encouraged to submit recommendations on legislation by August 6, 2023.
Musk’s ongoing clash with Australian authorities
ACMA is Australia’s broadcasting authority, which has a broader reach than the electronic safety commissioner, which focuses exclusively on online content.
Just days earlier, the commissioner threatened Twitter with daily fines of up to $700,000 (US$476,000) unless it explained what it was doing to combat “hate speech” on its platform.
The commissioner says he has received “more online hate complaints on Twitter in the last 12 months” than any other platform and alleges a “growing number” of reports of serious online abuse since Musk took office in October 2022. .
Commissioner Julie Inman Grant also blamed the rise in “hate speech” on Musk’s decision to reduce Twitter’s global workforce from 8,000 to 1,500 (including its “trust and safety teams”) and end its presence. public policy in Australia.
Musk has indicated that the staff cuts were necessary because the company was inefficient and overstaffed; Despite being publicly listed and widely used, Twitter has yet to consistently turn a profit.
Rob Nicholls, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, said there is no right to free speech in Australia and there is only an “implied right of political communication”.
This right was also not legislated but extracted from the common law by the judges.
“As is customary in an Australian setting, not doing what you say is more problematic from a regulatory perspective than problematic conduct,” he previously told The Epoch Times via email.
“It is important to note that the comments from the electronic security commissioner were in reference to Twitter promoting hate speech when it has a policy to prohibit hateful conduct on the platform.”
Nicholls has said Twitter’s lack of a public policy presence in Australia to engage with authorities will work against the social media giant’s favor.