Facebook-backed group launches misinformation adjudication panel in Australia

This combination photo from Reuters files shows Facebook, Google and Twitter logos. REUTERS

SYDNEY, Oct. 11 (Reuters) – A technology body backed by Australian entities Facebook, Google and Twitter said Monday it had set up a special committee to resolve complaints about misinformation, a day after the government launched tougher laws about false and defamatory online -Posts.

The social media post corruption problem has emerged as the second frontline of the battle between Big Tech and Australia, which passed legislation last year so that platforms pay license fees for content and triggered a temporary Facebook blackout in February.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to social media last week “a coward’s palace”while the government said on Sunday it was considering measures to make social media businesses more responsible, including enforce legal liability on the platforms for the content published on it.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI), which represents the Australian units of Facebook Inc. (FB.O), Alphabet (GoogL.O) Google and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), said its new misinformation monitoring subcommittee shows the industry is ready to self-regulate against harmful contributions.

The tech giants had already agreed on a code of conduct against misinformation, “and we wanted to further strengthen it through independent expert oversight and public accountability,” said DIGI managing director Sunita Bose in a statement.

A three-member “independent complaints sub-committee” would try to resolve complaints about possible violations of the code of conduct via a public website, said DIGI, but would not accept complaints about individual contributions.

The industry’s code of conduct includes measures to address misinformation that harms public health, including the novel coronavirus.

DIGI, which also includes Apple Inc. (AAPL.O) and TikTok, as a signatory, said it could make a public statement if a company violates the code of conduct or revokes its signatory status with the group.

Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who was among high-level lawmakers who promised tougher action against platforms with misleading and defamatory content, welcomed the move, while consumer groups argued it didn’t go far enough.

“I am pleased that DIGI is announcing an important development to strengthen the Code to Protect Australians from Misinformation and Disinformation,” Fletcher said in a statement.

But Reset Australia, an advocacy group focused on the impact of technology on democracy, said the board of directors was “ridiculous” because it did not provide for penalties and the code of conduct was optional.

“The DIGI code is little more than a PR stunt given the negative PR around Facebook in the last few weeks,” said Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran, Director of Tech Policy at Reset Australia, in a statement calling for regulation for the industry.

Andrew Williams, CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, said the move was “a step in the right direction” but too limited as only people with Google accounts could file complaints on the new website.

“It is important that all the information consumers need to know about the DIGI Complaints Portal is easy to find and accessible to everyone,” he said.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Arrangement by Richard Pullin

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.