Extremely concerning draft legislation released for consultation by the Federal Government would give government bureaucrats extraordinary regulatory powers to police online content and remove information it considers to be ‘harmful’.
The government’s rationale for this legislation is that ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ pose a “threat to the safety and wellbeing of Australians, as well to our democracy, society and economy”.
Misinformation is defined as unintentionally misleading or false content that may cause serious harm. Disinformation, on the other hand, is defined as misleading or false content that is intended to deceive or cause serious harm. Serious harm is defined very broadly and includes expressing ‘hatred’ against protected groups, harm to the environment, or the threat of undermining the democratic process.
The Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 empowers the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to monitor and regulate what it deems as “harmful online misinformation and disinformation”. It achieves this by requiring big tech platforms to impose codes of conduct incorporating and enforcing these broad definitions.
The platforms covered by the Bill are not just limited to social media, but also include search engines, news aggregators, and podcasting services.
The Bill stipulates hefty penalties for breaches—up to $7.8 million or five per cent of global turnover for corporations. This will undoubtedly lead to self-censorship as platforms will likely monitor content more closely to avoid significant fines. This will necessarily have a stifling effect on free speech and access to information in this country.
More importantly, this Bill essentially gives the state, through ACMA, a mechanism to determine what counts as acceptable communication and what counts as misinformation or disinformation. This potentially gives the state the ability to control the availability and presentation of information to everyday Australians, granting it power beyond anything that a government should have in a free and democratic society.
We strongly encourage every person concerned about this unprecedented government overreach to make their views known. The inquiry is accepting public submissions until August 20, 2023. You can make a submission here.
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