Submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts

Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill Exposure Draft

An ongoing flood of misinformation and disinformation through online platforms risks damage to Australian democracy, institutions and society.

ATSE applauds the Australian Government for seeking mechanisms to stymie the flow of misinformation online rather than entrusting this to voluntary industry codes of practice. ATSE’s joint 2022 submission with the Australian Academy of Science to the Australian Code of Practice on Misinformation and Disinformation recommended better inoculation mechanisms and the inclusion of professional news content with the scope of the code. These recommendations would go a long way to strengthening Australian resistance to misinformation.

Misinformation belief is fed by trust in the source of misinformation and by a lack of trust in those providing accurate information (Butler & Ecker, 2023). It is therefore crucial that reforms designed to tackle misinformation are seen publicly to build trust in the Government’s response and are effective at limiting misinformation from trusted sources and support individuals to identify misinformation. The reforms should also be expanded to include traditional media sources, which can both amplify and produce misinformation.

ATSE makes the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: Engender trust in the legislation by providing clear, plain-English guidelines for the legislated industry standards that details when they will be enforced and limits on their powers.

Recommendation 2: Amend the legislation to ensure researchers at Australian universities have access to data collected by ACMA under the legislation.

Recommendation 3: Use industry guidelines to prioritise measures that increase friction for spreading or accessing misinformation.

Recommendation 4: Include private messaging services within the scope of code of practice and industry standards powers of the Act, subject to controls to prevent the invasion of user privacy or weakening of encryption.

Recommendation 5: Expand ACMA powers to enable enforceable industry standards on traditional media sources, including print news media.

Recommendation 6: Implement media literacy training within schools to help students learn how misinformation is used and how to detect it.