ACMA releases guidance to digital platforms

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a position paper outlining its expectations for a voluntary code or codes of practice on misinformation and news quality to be developed by digital platforms.
The position paper, Misinformation and news quality on digital platforms in Australia – A position paper to guide code development, includes a model code framework for consideration, including objectives and outcomes to be achieved for the benefit of Australian users of digital platforms.
According to the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report: Australia 2020, 48 per cent of Australians rely on online news or social media as their main source of news. But 64 per cent of Australians are concerned about what is real or fake on the internet.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said, “That should rightly be of immense community concern. False and misleading news and information online has the potential to cause serious harm to individuals, communities and society.
“In developing this new code, digital platforms will need to balance the need to limit the spread and impact of harmful material on the internet while protecting Australians’ important rights to freedom of speech.
“Digital platforms should not be the arbiters of truth for online information. But they do have a responsibility to tackle misinformation disseminated on their platforms and to assist people to make sound decisions about the credibility of news and information.
“We know that major platforms have stepped up their processes during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the prevalence of information potentially harmful to health and property.
“It’s now time for digital platforms to codify and commit to permanent actions that are systematic, transparent, certain and accountable for their users in addressing such potentially harmful material.”
The Australian Government has asked the ACMA to oversee the platforms’ code development process and report to Government by June 2021. This follows recommendations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in its 2019 Digital Platforms Inquiry.
The ACMA’s position paper identifies three key objectives to be achieved through the code:

  • reduce the impact of harmful misinformation
  • empower people to better judge the quality of news and information
  • enhance the transparency and accountability of platforms’ practices.

The ACMA anticipates the digital platforms will work together, including undertaking public consultation, to develop and have in place a single, industry-wide code by December 2020.

The goverment has welcomed the release of the papers and the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said the development of a voluntary code is an important step in combatting misinformation on digital platforms.
The Minister said, “During COVID-19, we’ve seen firsthand the harm misinformation can cause as it spreads rapidly online. It can create public confusion, raise anxieties and erode trust in institutions, and this is particularly harmful to those most vulnerable in our community.
“As more Australians rely on online platforms for their news and information, it is critical we put in place a framework to guide how platforms reduce the impact of harmful misinformation, empower users to identify quality news sources, and improve the transparency of their policy implementation.
“The major digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, have made considerable efforts to limit users’ exposure to false material during COVID-19, however, more must be done. The Government expects the digital platforms will work constructively with the ACMA to set up long-term, transparent and accountable practices to better protect their users.
“Importantly, the code will be developed and implemented to preserve freedom of speech. Digital platforms will not become general arbiters of truth in our everyday conversations – however they do have a role to play in protecting Australians from genuinely harmful misinformation. Some platforms understand this responsibility and are already taking ad hoc action on such content. This code will provide the transparency and accountability needed to maintain Australians’ confidence that the right balance is being struck. ”


The ACMA considers that the code should cover misinformation across all types of news and information (including advertising and sponsored content) that:

  • is of a public or semi-public nature
  • is shared or distributed via a digital platform
  • has the potential to cause harm to an individual, social group or the broader community.

To enable a consistent experience for Australians who use multiple platforms, the ACMA considers a single industry code would be the preferable approach. Any code should be consumer-centric, including providing a mechanism for users to easily access dispute resolution mechanisms.

As a voluntary code, it will be a matter for individual platforms to decide on whether they participate in the development of the code or choose to be bound by the code. The ACMA would, however, strongly encourage all digital platforms with a presence in Australia, regardless of their size, to sign up to an industry-wide code to demonstrate their commitment to addressing misinformation.

At a minimum, the code should apply to the full range of digital platforms that were outlined in the DPI terms of reference. This includes online search engines, social media platforms and other digital content aggregation services with at least one million monthly active users in Australia. The ACMA considers that this will likely include widely used platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Search and Google News, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Apple News and Snapchat.

In developing a code, the ACMA considers that platforms should adopt an outcomes- based approach. This would provide signatories with a common set of aims while granting the flexibility to implement measures that are most suited to their business models and technologies.

The ACMA has developed the code model below which articulates potential objectives and outcomes for the code.





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