Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023

A new topic has been created in responses to discussion concerning the legislation proposal.

Misinformation and disinformation spread via digital platform services is a major issue worldwide. The rapid spread of false, misleading and deceptive information online has resulted in a multitude of harms from disrupted public health responses to foreign interference in elections and the undermining of democratic institutions. The ACMA recommended the government provide it with a graduated set of new powers to combat misinformation and disinformation across the sector. These powers would increase transparency and ensure that digital platform services are held to account if voluntary industry efforts prove to be inadequate.

Consumers are routinely exposed to content of dubious authenticity and reliability. The initiative has come from the ACMA with intent to place greater responsibility on the digital platforms.

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Warning … incoming … the government is up to its old tricks again. Under the guise of combating “misinformation” new government powers are threatened. Draft legislation is currently up for public consultation: New ACMA powers to combat misinformation and disinformation

Have your say!

Public consultations will close on August 6.

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Two points about this latest initiative.

  1. ACMA will have no powers to do anything to remove misinformation. So what is the point.
  2. No doubt there will be no consideration given to deal with the truckloads of misinformation delivered by the Governments themselves or their quasi-government agencies. Especially around election time.
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What tricks? Lay out your case.

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It’s worse than that. The draft legislation expressly exempts the government from being blocked as “misinformation”.

So, yes, they most certainly did give consideration of the truckloads of misinformation coming from the government - and made sure that that flow of misinformation is not affected by this draft legislation.

That isn’t really true (is not false but is misleading). That is just one piece of “misinformation” from the government about this Bill.

I would like to think that you would read the two documents and the actual Bill in order to decide for yourself what concerns you personally. I’m giving you the warning.

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On the bright side, political parties are not excluded from the new legislation. Strangely, it does not cover email. So if you email misinformation or disinformation to 100,000 people you won’t be in breach, but if you send a text message to someone you might be.

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I have found that, except in an emergency, warnings to adults have more value if accompanied by explanation. I have no idea what you are warning us about, it won’t be in the source documents because you are not an author. So why be coy?

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I do find this concerning. I very much believe that laws should apply equally to everyone within Australia, as they say, ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander’. Allowing the government to be exempt from deliberate misinformation laws is troubling to say the least, as deliberately spreading misinformation is often used by ‘governments’ in places many of us would not like to be.

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While I generally agree, there are cases where government lies have a long tradition and are probably necessary, such as propaganda during wartime and international confrontations. Splitting that out?

Nope. If you send an actual text message then you won’t be covered by this bill. SMS (and MMS) are expressly exempted.

This is a confusing area though because on an iPhone if you send a “text message” then it may be sent as an SMS (green) or may be sent as an iMessage (blue) - and neither the sender nor the receiver even fully controls that choice but that will cause that individual piece of communication to engage different parts of the bill.

Email is expressly exempted (but exempted in a different part of the bill, as compared with SMS/MMS).

I believe that these are political concessions, and that it could change in the future i.e. slippery slope - since you highlight an obvious loophole.

Read the verbal handstands that they do regarding private messaging services (which are sort of exempt and sort of not exempt).

The bottom line is that politically it is more fraught to be intruding on private, person-to-person communication. It makes it a more difficult sell. This is in contrast to something that is published, made public or otherwise publicly observable i.e. something that is intended not to be private.

In addition, the government understands that any half-decent person-to-person messaging should be encrypted, and encrypted beyond the ability of the service provider to read the message (i.e. end-to-end encrypted), so there’s no way that a service provider could do anything about “misinformation” anyway (record statistics, or block etc.). The service provider can of course record metadata - but only without regard to whether the content is “misinformation” i.e. universal surveillance.

Hah, yes. Probably sets up an advantage to the government of the day though - because the government of the day can communicate as the government (exempt) rather than as a political party (not exempt).

However exactly how any such communication will in practice engage with this bill is unclear, given that the bill expressly pretends not to interfere with the “implied freedom of political communication”. (This is of course a constitutional fig leaf.)

In other words, if this bill worked the way the government pretends it will work then a political party would likely be unhindered by this bill as far as communication goes - since almost everything that a political party publishes is “political communication”.

Supposing that the exemption for government were removed … nothing in this bill prevents the government putting out “propaganda during wartime” however they might be better to confine themselves to TV and radio (since broadcasting services are expressly exempt).

Propaganda comes in many forms. Not all of it is “misinformation” anyway. But, yes, sometimes during wartime there might be deliberate actual misinformation put out by the government in connection with the war.

Also, this bill attempts to “protect” only Australians. So if the government puts out information that is false and it does not impact on Australians but it does impact on one or more people overseas then such communication should not engage with this bill. (This is not crystal clear because putting out “misinformation” about people overseas could indirectly impact on the Australian economy i.e. if those overseas retaliate - just another reason to be wary of this bill. However in a wartime situation this is unlikely to be an issue.)

“We’ve stopped the boats”?

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I’ve told you once!

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PS to my previous comment on that …

  • a lot of this (government propaganda) will theoretically be protected as “political communication”, not only during wartime but at all times
  • if the government didn’t have an express blanket exemption but war breaks out then it would be open to the government to seek an amendment to give itself that exemption at that time, possibly with some kind of sunset clause - but the government is giving itself a blanket exemption from the get go

It doesn’t even need to give itself an exemption. The ACMA is responsible for enforcing the legislation, and would not dare tread on government fingers.

Certainly ACMA can’t be seen as fully independent of government.

If industry fails to develop a Code and hence instead ACMA imposes a de facto Code on industry then ACMA is free to be as lenient on government misinformation as it likes (assuming that we are without the explicit exemption for government that is in the draft legislation).

As far as I can see, this forum from Choice will be subject to this regime. So Choice will probably end up having to implement a Code that was developed by Big Tech (who in turn had a gun to their head).

Would something similar to the Robodebt disclosures/advices by the prior Government then be exempt from any censure as it would exempted misinformation under the proposed legislation?

How would the Government that provides such deliberate misinformation be held accountable until the ballot box. The Federal ICAC would be hard pressed to consider it illegal or unlawful if it was legislatively legal to do so. Could be interesting to see how that would be handled.

I would think so - provided that those disclosures / advices (content in general) are authorised by a government (Commonwealth, state, territory, and even local). So disclosures by a government employee who goes rogue would not be exempt (but still might be OK for other reasons).

Probably best to leave FedICAC out of this - different topic, whole other can of worms - but it’s another interesting angle to consider.

The proposed regulatory regime does not specifically envisage “censure” - but nor does it rule it out or exclude it.

The regime primarily envisages that content will simply “disappear” (or be prevented from appearing). CCP-style airbrush.

However I can imagine that a platform provider who sees that a particular user is generating a high load on its censorship team might introduce some kind of social credit system, leading to a user being temporarily banned (sin binned) or even permanently banned. Some platforms may already have such a system. This proposed legislation just adds another aspect to it e.g. could make it mandatory if that’s what the industry Code says.

Industry codes developed by industry or in close consultation with industry are so effective most of the time, eh? For industry!

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Well in this case ACMA has to approve the Code, and can refuse to do so and instead impose one that ACMA writes.