Facebook, Google, Microsoft, TikTok, and Twitter adopt Aussie misinformation code

Code will not apply to government content, political advertising, satirical work, or other journalistic pieces that are governed by an existing Australian law.

A handful of technology giants operating in Australia have agreed on a code of practice that aims to stem disinformation on their respective platforms.

All signatories -- Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok, and Twitter – have committed to the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation. They have also committed to releasing an annual transparency report about their efforts under the code.

The code [PDF] was prepared by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DiGi), a non-profit industry association advocating for the digital industry in Australia.

In December 2019, the Australian government asked the digital industry to develop the code in response to policy as set out in Regulating in the Digital Age: Government Response and Implementation Roadmap for the Digital Platforms Inquiry. DiGi volunteered to develop the draft for the industry.

The code asks signatories to be cognisant of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights when developing proportionate responses to disinformation and misinformation.

It provides seven guiding principles, with the first aimed at protecting freedom of expression.

"Signatories should not be compelled by governments or other parties to remove content solely on the basis of its alleged falsity if the content would not otherwise be unlawful," the code said.

Another is centred on protecting user privacy and notes that any actions taken by digital platforms to address the propagation of disinformation and misinformation should not contravene commitments they have made to respect the privacy of Australian users.

DiGi explained that the code should be adopted without prejudice to other initiatives aimed at tackling disinformation and misinformation by digital platforms.

"Empowering users" is another principle, that is to enable users to make informed choices about digital media content that purports to be a source of authoritative current news or of factual information.

Signatories also commited to supporting independent researchers and having policies and processes concerning advertising placements implemented.

The final guiding principle dictates that digital platforms should communicate on the effectiveness of efforts to ensure the integrity and security of their services and products by taking steps to prohibit, detect, and take action against inauthentic accounts on their services and products whose purpose is to propagate disinformation.

The code will apply to certain products and services that are delivered to end users in Australia, such as user-generated sponsored and shared content as well as content that is returned and ranked by search engines in response to user queries.

Private messaging services, email services, and enterprise services are excluded from the code.

Other excluded content includes those that are produced in good faith for entertainment, including satire and parody, or for educational purposes; content authorised by an Australian state or federal government; political advertising or content authorised by a political party registered under Australian law; and news content that is the subject of a published editorial code.

While political advertising is not misinformation or disinformation for the purposes of the code, signatories are required to develop and implement policies that provide users with greater transparency about the source of political advertising carried on digital platforms.

"Signatories may also, as a matter of policy, choose not to target advertisements based on the inferred political affiliations of a user," the code noted.

The code is "opt-in" and participants can withdraw their commitment. Within six months of signing, signatories must have a complaints handling process in place.

DiGi said it plans to establish a sub-committee comprising representatives from signatories and independent members who will meet at six-monthly intervals to review the actions of signatories and monitor how they are meeting their commitments under the code.

The code will be reviewed in 12 months.

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