Complaint by Reset Australia against X (f.k.a Twitter) upheld by Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation independent Complaints Sub-Committee
Media release, Monday, 27 November 2023 – A decision by an independent committee in relation to a complaint by Reset Australia against X (f.k.a Twitter) under the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation (ACPDM) has been reached today.
The Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) is releasing this decision in its role as the administrator of the ACPDM. Eligible complaints made by the public, via the complaints portal that DIGI administers on its website, are escalated to an independent Complaints Sub-committee. These functions and the committee’s composition are detailed on the DIGI website here.
On Thursday, 5 October 2023, DIGI received a complaint from Reset Australia (the complainant) claiming that X (f.k.a Twitter) had breached its mandatory obligations under the ACPDM, in particular Outcome 1C.
DIGI assessed the complaint as an ‘eligible complaint’ – under the ACPDM’s Terms of reference for Complaints Facility and Complaints Sub-committee (ACPDM complaints process) – and, on Friday, 6 October 2023, notified the independent Complaints Sub-committee of the complaint concerning a material breach of the code. The complaint was handled in accordance with the process set out in the ACPDM complaints process.
DIGI has today published the public statement written by the independent Complaints Sub-committee, which includes information about its findings and the process it undertook. These statements, set out below, have been written by the independent Complaints Sub-committee, and are being released by DIGI in this media release and on the DIGI website in line with DIGI’s role as the administrator of the ACPDM.
Statements attributable to the independent Complaints Sub-Committee:
The finding of the ACPDM governance Complaints Sub-Committee into the complaint by Reset Australia against X.
Under section 12 (v) of the Complaints Sub-Committee Terms of Reference, X committed a serious breach of the code and has refused to cooperate with DIGI or undertake any remedial action.
As will be outlined in detail below, no further investigation of the breach is warranted, and X should not be extended any opportunity to remedy the breach. In the Sub Committee’s opinion, no correction made now could remedy the breach in relation to this complaint, the ACPDM code, and the wider community.
The complaint related to X closing and leaving closed, accessible channels for the public to report mis and disinformation on the platform during the Australian Voice to Parliament Referendum.
Accordingly, the Sub-Committee’s deliberations focused solely on the issue of a publicly available system to report a platform’s breaches of their policies and not on any content that might have been seen as mis or dis information.
The Sub-Committee’s Terms of Reference state that if the Complaints sub-committee determines the issue is serious, and the Signatory refuses to take remedial action or co-operate in an investigation or a correction is not possible, withdrawal of signatory status is available as a sanction.
The Sub-Committee noted that the example given in the Terms of Reference succinctly summarises X’s breach: For example, if the Signatory has, without reasonable excuse, failed to provide a mechanism to the public to make reports of breaches of its policies for an extended period.
Therefore, the Complaints Sub-Committee has decided to withdraw X’s signatory status of the ACPDM Code.
On Friday, Oct 6, 2023, the independent Complaints Sub-Committee was advised that Reset Australia had lodged a complaint about X with DIGI.
In part it said: It is no longer possible on X for users to report content that violates X’s Civic Integrity policy. To be clear, content that violates X’s published policies around ‘Misleading information about how to participate’, in an electoral process, or violate rules around voter ‘Suppression’ and ‘Intimidation’ cannot be reported using publicly available tools.
The code states “Signatories will implement and publish policies, procedures and appropriate guidelines that will enable users to report the types of behaviours and content that violates their policies under section 5.10. 5.12.”
The Sub-Committee, DIGI, Reset Australia, gathered for a Zoom meeting on Monday, Nov 13. X’s relevant executive was given adequate notice to attend and had confirmed as much but withdrew less than two hours before the meeting citing ill health. No written submission was provided to the meeting by X. Under the Complaints Sub-Committee terms of reference, DIGI attended as observers and acted in its administration capacity as secretary of the complaints Sub-Committee.
Reset, in their evidence, confirmed the claim in their complaint, that the accessible channels for the public to report mis and disinformation in the politics category was not available at the time of their complaint and remains unavailable.
This situation was confirmed by DIGI upon receipt of the Reset complaint. Additionally, at the request of the Complaints Sub-committee, an independent comprehensive survey of the X website was undertaken by RMIT Cross Check, following the commencement of the sub-committee’s investigation.
The survey also confirmed the absence of publicly accessible channels to report mis and disinformation in the politics category. As of the writing of this report, the publicly available tools referred to above remain unavailable.
X promised documents in their defence would be lodged the day after the meeting, but the documents were never submitted.
A list of questions from the Sub-Committee was sent to X following the November 13 meeting with a response date of November 21. No response has been received and no explanation offered for the failure to respond.
Repeated attempts to engage with X by DIGI and Reset Australia have failed to elicit any response to the complaint. The sub-committee has had no contact with X in relation to this matter.
On Monday Nov 27 the Sub-Committee met with DIGI and conveyed their finding noting that X’s refusal to engage in any way with the process was disappointing and irresponsible.
– Complaints Sub-Committee,
27th November 2023
<Statements attributable to Complaints Sub-Committee end>
Further background on the the ACPDM, attributable to DIGI as the administrator of the code:
About the ACPDM
The ACPDM was developed in response to policy announced in December 2019, in relation to the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry, where the digital industry was asked to develop a voluntary code of practice on disinformation. DIGI developed the original code with assistance from the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition, and First Draft, a global organisation that specialises in helping societies overcome false and misleading information.
The ACPDM is founded on the principle of transparency as a key element in driving improvements in combating mis- and disinformation. Every signatory has agreed to annual transparency reports about those efforts to improve understanding of both the management and scale of mis- and disinformation in Australia (Mandatory commitment #7). Signatories have all released three sets of annual transparency reports under the code, which are all available on the DIGI website at digi.org.au/disinformation/transparency.
Other mandatory code commitments of signatories include publishing & implementing policies on misinformation and disinformation, providing users with a way to report content against those policies and implementing a range of scalable measures that reduce its spread & visibility (Mandatory commitment #1).
Additionally, there are a series of widely adopted opt-in commitments that signatories select if relevant to their business model: (Commitment #2) Addressing disinformation in paid content; (#3) addressing fake bots and accounts; (#4) transparency about source of content in news and factual information (e.g. promotion of media literacy, partnerships with fact-checkers) and (#5) political advertising; and (#6) partnering with universities/researchers to improve understanding of mis and disinformation.
DIGI is a non-profit industry association that advocates for a thriving Australian digitally-enabled economy where online safety and privacy are protected. DIGI is a key Government partner in efforts to address online harms, data and consumer protection online and to grow the digital economy, through code development, partnerships and advocacy for effective and implementable approaches to technology policy.
The complaints facility
How does the complaints process work?
The governance of the ACPDM includes independent oversight and a facility for the public to report breaches by signatories of their code commitments. More about the governance of the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation can be found at https://digi.org.au/disinformation-code/governance/
The Complaints Sub-committee is made up of at least two independent members who do not work within or represent relevant technology companies. Each independent member will also be required to declare any actual or potential conflict of interest as a condition of their appointment. 2) The role of secretary of the Complaints Sub-committee will be undertaken by a representative of DIGI. 3) The secretary may provide advice and recommendations to the Complaints Sub-committee regarding the operation of the ACPDM, and will record minutes of meetings, and assist in documenting the sub-committee’s decisions and reports. 4) The secretary is not a member of the Complaints Sub-committee and cannot vote on decisions at meetings
What happens if a signatory is found to be in breach of the code?
The Complaints Sub-committee can decide the resolution of a complaint about potential material breaches of the ACPDM based on the severity of the breach, taking steps that range from public statements, investigations and withdrawing a company from the code. However, the aim of the complaints facility is to actually resolve the complaints, so as to have a positive impact on mis- and disinformation in Australia; this will involve working constructively with signatories on the steps they can take to improve compliance with their code commitments.
Why can’t people make complaints about specific pieces of misinformation and disinformation content to DIGI?
The aim of the code is to drive improvements and transparency on the measures that signatories take to deal with misinformation and disinformation in Australia. The complaints facility’s approach is consistent with that aim. DIGI will accept complaints from the Australian public where they believe a signatory has materially breached the code’s commitments. Complaints about individual items of content on signatories’ products or services should be directed to the signatory via their reporting mechanisms or otherwise. The code requires all signatories to have such reporting mechanisms.
What structures have you put into place to prevent conflicts of interest for DIGI in this governance arrangement?
Self-regulatory codes of practice developed by industry associations are used in a range of industries, including the media, advertising and telecommunications. DIGI’s handling of complaints is oversighted by the independent Complaints Sub-committee. As the code developer, DIGI acts as secretary on this Complaints Sub-Committee, but has no vote on decisions regarding complaints brought to it, in order to avoid conflicts of interest as an industry association.
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