Misinformation reports produced by digital platform providers like Meta, Twitter and TikTok under the voluntary industry code are “not working to provide transparency”, the communications watchdog has argued in a new report.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has also called for industry association – the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) – to extend the code to large-scale group messaging services WhatsApp and Messenger operated by Meta.
It comes as the federal government consults on reforms that would grant new powers to the ACMA to hold social media platforms to account for harmful content and which are already facing opposition from Big Tech and the Coalition.
In its second report to the government on the working of the Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, the regulator said that while there have been improvements to the code since it was revived by DIGI last year, concerns with the self-regulation model persist.
Improvements in the revised code include a new outcome about the transparency of recommender systems, and new opt-in commitments to deter advertisers from repeatedly placing digital ads that propagate mis-and disinformation.
Changes to the definition of harm is also a positive step, according to the ACMA, which had previously been critical of the code for “not adequately encapsulat[ing] the full range of harms that can be caused by disinformation and misinformation”.
But the regulator has called on industry to take “a range of actions” to improve the existing arrangements, particularly transparency, which is “not operating effectively to provide an appropriate level of public transparency about the measures signatories are taking under the code and the effectiveness of those measures”.
The “broad outcomes-based approach” provides the benefit of flexibility for signatories, the ACCC said, but that it is “impossible to assess whether the actions are delivering the intended outcomes for users and the Australian community” without robust code administration arrangements.
Transparency reports are “not working to provide transparency” about the current and proposed measures of the eight signatories – Adobe, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter, and users remain unable to determine which code outcomes a signatory has committed to after two years.
Changes that moved the reporting period to calendar year, which “created a lag between the end of the reporting period and when the reports are published”, is also a “suboptimal outcome and diminished the effectiveness of the code”, the ACMA said.
“At a minimum, there needs to be a single place where a user can go to view the outcomes each signatory has signed up to, and the measures they have committed to under each outcome,” the report said.
“The information about measures needs to be timely and this process should be separated from historical reporting on platform performance. Now the code has matured, we do not consider this would be a significant burden against the benefits it would provide.”
It also made specific recommendations for Twitter and DIGI to work to ensure “material changes that impact its code commitments are transparency” in a signatory report card accompanying the report.
As reported by InnovationAus.com last month, Twitter was the only signatory not to publish data on the volume of local content removed from its social media platform last year, which the report highlights.
“Less data has been provided than in the previous two transparency reports. This limits our ability to assess Twitter’s progress in meeting the code’s outcomes over time,” the ACMA said in Twitter’s report cards.
The ACMA also said it is “disappointing” that signatories have not identified any KPIs to track their progress and, despite some bright spots, “continue to provide isolated data points with limited meaningful analysis” instead.
The report recommends a range of other actions that industry can take to bolster the current self-regulatory arrangements, including covering messaging services that facilitate large-scale group messages within the scope of the code.
“We were particularly disappointed to see the continued exclusion of messaging services (that may be used in a public or semi-public way) from the scope despite feedback from the ACMA and most submitters that messaging services be brought into scope,” it said.
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