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Media regulator wants crackdown on fake news, misleading ads

ACMA was asked by the Morrison government to oversee the creation of the code following an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into the market power of digital platforms last year.

But the creation of a code is timely given the proliferation of misleading information on online platforms. In both the bushfire crisis and the pandemic, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher urged Australians to be careful and sceptical with what they read and shared on social media.

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In a position paper that sets out guidelines for the voluntary code, ACMA said the new code, which will apply to all digital platforms including TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram, will address all types of news and information – including advertising and sponsored content – that is distributed on social media and has the potential to cause harm.

“What we are seeing is there is a combination of things that are of concern to users, some of that is disinformation – information that is particularly put on a digital platform to cause harm – but we think there is misinformation that may not be intended to harm but actually does harm,” Ms O’Loughlin said. “We also think that there is so much information on platforms that goes beyond news … where we are observing quite strong concerns from people who’s names have been used for what looks like advertising.”

It will also try to improve transparency and accountability on the way Google and Facebook handle false or misleading news posts.

The regulator is proposing that the code sets outcomes that digital platforms should achieve, but will not include any directives on how to achieve them. The paper says the code will also need a complaints handling regime and a representative body to administer it.

A final version of code is expected to be established by October.

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