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Digital industry strengthens misinformation code in response to community feedback

The Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) has further strengthened The Australian Code of Practice on Misinformation and Disinformation, making changes in response to stakeholder feedback received through a planned review of the code.

DIGI concluded its 2022 review of the code, initiated in June, by releasing an updated code, a report that details how the updated code addresses stakeholder feedback, and all public submissions. On the outcome of the code’s review, DIGI’s Managing Director Sunita Bose said:

“This code is an important safeguard for Australians against the harms that arise from mis- and disinformation. DIGI is committed to the code’s continued improvement over time in response to the evolving digital environment and feedback from the community.

“We’ve closely examined feedback and made updates that strengthen the code in a range of areas, including improving the threshold of what is considered harmful mis- and disinformation, and the code commitments on digital advertising.”

“As mainstream platforms get better in their approaches to mis- and disinformation, it’s likely to proliferate elsewhere online. That’s why we’re also making changes today to make it easier for smaller companies to adopt the code.”

Some of the key changes made as part of the review include:

  • Encouraging greater participation in the code by smaller digital platforms, including by modifying the transparency reporting requirements for services with less than one million active monthly users in Australia.

  • An updated definition of ‘harm’ in relation to mis and disinformation, addressing stakeholders’ concerns that the threshold of ‘serious and imminent’ threat of harm was too high; the new threshold is ‘serious and credible’ threat of harm.

  • Additional commitments reflecting updates to the strengthened EU Code of Practice in relation to recommender systems, and deterring advertisers from repeatedly placing digital advertisements that propagate mis- and disinformation. There are also updates to further clarify that both sponsored content and paid for advertising are in scope of relevant commitments on demonetising mis and disinformation.

  • Retaining the pre-existing exclusion of professional news content from being treated as misinformation under the code, and the pre-existing obligation for signatories to address this content when it is being disseminated as disinformation. The review concluded that the ACMA and the professional news media are best placed to address misinformation concerns within their self regulatory and co-regulatory codes.

  • Requiring greater transparency around the specific products and services that are within scope of the signatories’ code commitments, through updates to the code, transparency reporting requirements and the DIGI website.

In addition to its commitments to periodic reviews of the code, DIGI continues to support in principle the ACMA’s recommendations to the Government to have greater oversight of the code and misinformation more broadly.

These updates are the latest set in a series of improvements driven by DIGI and code signatories since the code was introduced in February 2021. In October 2021, DIGI introduced independent oversight and a complaints facility to increase accountability. In 2022, independent assessment and best practice reporting guidelines were introduced to drive improvements in the transparency reporting process.

Further background on the The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation:

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation has so far been adopted by eight signatories – Apple, Adobe, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter – that have cemented their mandatory commitments, and nominated additional opt-in commitments, through public disclosures on the DIGI website.

Signatories have all released two sets of annual transparency reports under the code; inaugural reports that were released on May 22, 2021 and 2021 calendar year reports released on May 30, 2022. Both sets of reports are available on the DIGI website at digi.org.au/disinformation/transparency.

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation 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 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.

Mandatory code commitments 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). 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).

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.For media enquiries, please email press@digi.org.au. The reports and updated code are available at digi.org.au/disinformation-code/code-review/

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