Proposed legislation in Australia could impose substantial fines on tech giants, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, TikTok, and podcasting services, for their failure to address disinformation on their platforms. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), a government watchdog, would be granted new powers to enforce mandatory industry codes and standards, as well as compel information from digital platforms. Under the proposed laws, platform owners could face penalties of up to five percent of their annual global turnover, one of the highest penalties suggested worldwide.
While the ACMA would not have the authority to remove or sanction individual posts, it could hold platforms accountable for their inadequate efforts to monitor and combat intentionally false, misleading, and deceptive content that could cause significant harm. The legislation aligns with forthcoming European Union regulations that could result in fines of up to six percent of annual turnover for tech giants, accompanied by potential bans on operating within the EU.
Australia has been at the forefront of digital platform regulation, prompting tech firms to issue mostly unfulfilled threats of withdrawing from the Australian market. The proposed bill aims to strengthen the existing voluntary Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, launched in 2021 but with limited impact thus far. Several tech giants, including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok, and Twitter, are signatories to the current code.
These proposed laws were introduced against the backdrop of a surge in misinformation in Australia, particularly surrounding an upcoming referendum on Indigenous rights. Australians will vote on whether the constitution should recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, as well as whether an Indigenous consultative body should be established to provide input on proposed legislation. The Australian Electoral Commission has observed an increase in online misinformation and abuse related to the referendum, with online comments becoming notably aggressive, according to Election Commissioner Tom Rogers.
The government argues that addressing disinformation is crucial for safeguarding Australians’ online safety and protecting the country’s democracy. Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland stated that misinformation and disinformation sow division, erode trust, and can pose risks to public health and safety. Stakeholders have until August to provide their feedback on the proposed legislation, shaping the future of disinformation regulation in Australia.