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Big Tech’s own misinformation media code slammed by experts
A NEW code of practice aimed to protect the spread of misinformation and disinformation online has been met with mixed reactions from industry regulators and organisations.
DIGI, the peak body for digital giants, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Tiktok, unveiled the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation on Monday, just days after Facebook blocked Australian users from viewing and sharing credible news content on the platform.
The voluntary code, which was called for by the Australian Government in December 2019, will see signatories choose how to address mis- and disinformation on their service, for example, by labelling false content, lowering the ranking of content, suspending or disabling accounts and removing content.
Those who sign up also commit to stamp out mis- and disinformation in paid content, address fake bots and release an annual report about their efforts to protect Australians from the harm of fake news.
While the country’s media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) welcomed the code, Reset
It does nothing but reinforce the arrogance of giants like Facebook... a
Australia, which works to counter digital threats to democracy, has slammed it.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’loughlin described the new code as being
a “flexible” approach to dealing with mis- and disinformation online.
“The Code anticipates platforms’ actions will be graduated and proportionate to the risk of harm,” Ms O’loughlin said.
“This will assist them to strike an appropriate balance between dealing with troublesome content and the right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Meanwhile, Reset Australia’s executive director Chris Cooper slammed the self-regulating nature of the Code as being “laughable”, “untrustworthy” and “wholly inadequate”.
“This limp, toothless, opt-in code of practice is both pointless and shameless,” he said.
“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.”
Instead, Mr Cooper called for an independent public regulator who has the ability to issue fines, notices and other civil penalties to inspect and audit algorithms and urged the Australia government to reject “this level of insouciant contempt for the Australian public”.
IN the hours following Facebook’s news blackout last Thursday, traffic to publisher websites dropped dramatically.
On the Wednesday before the ban was enforced, Chartbeat data reveals that Facebook was responsible for redirecting 201,000 eyeballs to the websites of Australian publishers.
A day later, when some news outlets who slipped through the cracks and remained live, only 14,000 Australian news site pageviews were via Facebook.
This data appears to show that many Australians rely on Facebook as a news source, but as digital expert Joshua Benton from Neiman Lab questioned, will these consumers find other ways to get their hit, or will they give news a miss entirely?
According to research by Oxford University, 48 per cent of Generation Z (those currently aged between six and 24 years) used social media as their main source of general news.
This is followed by 33 per cent of Generation Y, 18 per cent of Generation X, 9 per cent of Baby Boomers and four per cent of those over the age of 74 who get their news through platforms like Facebook.
The story is different at a local level. Local newspapers and their websites were cited as the top source of local news for Australians, at 41 per cent, according to the University of Canberra’s “Digital News Report: Australia 2020”.
However, with a substantial reliance, particularly from the younger generations, on social media services as a source of general news, is it any surprise Facebook turned off the traffic tap?
Not really, according to former Dubbo journalist, Neil Varcoe, who works for Google as a News Lab Publishing Fellow.
“The news industry understood the value of Facebook to their business, and still pushed for payment for their content appearing on their platform,” Mr Varcoe said.
“This included the links they posted themselves.
“Facebook is directly responsible for 30 to 40 per cent of their traffic – higher for small publishers (up to and over 90 per cent).
“That’s a service most businesses would pay for and they got it for free.
“Facebook had two possible paths – pay the ransom or remove news. They chose the latter.”
While Mr Varcoe said he does not condone Facebook’s behaviour, he admits the outcome was both “unexpected” yet “predictable”.
He also hopes a resolution is found.
“It’s hurt small news publishers in a devastating way, the big guys will be okay,” Mr Varcoe said.
“I hope for everyone’s sake – including a healthy, thriving information system that unpins an informed society – that it’s a temporary situation.”
As federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg continue negotiating an outcome on the viewing and sharing of ‘free’ news content, Facebook’s paid advertising channels remain fair game.
And it’s no coincidence. PHOTO: According to the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission, Facebook accounts for 28 per cent of all advertising spend in Australia while the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has estimated the social media juggernaut will continue to earn $2.5 million a day, despite the Australian news ban.
However, in an effort to bite back the tech giant’s power move, this week the government announced they would pull all paid advertising on service while the news blackout is enforced.
Having spent $42 million on digital advertising in 2019-20, Health Minister Greg Hunt told one news program that the government’s budgeted funds for Facebook ads may be reallocated.