Australia’s Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) has bolstered the governance of The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation with independent oversight and a facility for the public to report breaches by signatories of their code commitments.
Under the code, signatories must commit to safeguards to protect against online disinformation and misinformation, including publishing and implementing policies on their approach, and providing a way for their users to report content that may violate those policies. Every signatory commits to producing an annual transparency report documenting their efforts under the code’s commitments, the first set of which were released publicly in May.
DIGI, the industry association that developed the code, has appointed an independent Complaints Sub-Committee to resolve complaints about possible breaches by signatories of their code commitments, and a portal on its website for the public to raise such complaints. The independent members of that sub-committee are Dr Anne Kruger, Victoria Rubensohn AM and Christopher Zinn.
These independent members will also work with signatories, through an Administration Sub-Committee, to oversee the various actions taken by signatories to meet their obligations under the code.
In addition, DIGI has appointed an independent expert to fact check and attest signatories’ annual transparency reports going forward under the code, in order to incentivise best practice and compliance. Hal Crawford will assume this role (bio below).
On the introduction of the governance arrangement, DIGI Managing Director Sunita Bose said: “Especially in a pandemic, we can increasingly all agree that combating misinformation to protect public health and democracy is essential.
“The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation provides a strong framework for continued technology industry action and transparency on these complex challenges, and we wanted to further strengthen it with independent oversight from experts, and public accountability.”
Through the new complaints portal, DIGI will accept complaints from the Australian public where they believe a signatory has breached the code’s commitments. DIGI will not be able to accept complaints about individual items of content on signatories’ products or services, which should be directed to the signatory via their reporting mechanisms or otherwise. The code requires all signatories to have such reporting mechanisms.
Self-regulatory codes of practice developed by industry associations are used in a range of industries, including the media, advertising and telecommunications. As the code developer, DIGI acts as secretary on this Complaints Sub-Committee, but has no vote on decisions regarding complaints brought to it, in order to avoid conflicts of interest as an industry association.
The code has already been signed by Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter, and DIGI encourages other technology companies to adopt it. The code was developed in response to Australian Government policy announced in December 2019, where the digital industry was asked to develop a voluntary code of practice on disinformation.
DIGI developed this code with assistance from the University of Technology Sydney’s Centre for Media Transition, and First Draft, a global organisation that specialises in helping societies overcome false and misleading information, and with input from the overseeing regulator the ACMA and the public through a consultation process.
Chair of the Australian Commuinications and Media Authority, Nerida O’Loughlin, welcomed the new complaints process.
“Australians are deeply concerned about disinformation and misinformation, and in particular the spread of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation online,” Ms O’Loughlin said. “Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears. They have committed to this voluntary code and now is the time to make good on their word and address community concerns.
“A responsive complaints-handling system with robust governance is a critical component of an effective self-regulatory regime, particularly in the online environment,” Ms O’Loughlin said.
“However, we do have concerns that complaints about non-compliance with opt-in commitments will be treated differently to those about mandatory commitments. We will be watching how this works in practice and whether expanding the committee’s remit will be necessary.
“We will continue to monitor the actions of the digital platforms and whether they result in meaningful reduction in harmful misinformation and disinformation,” said Ms O’Loughlin.