Meta’s industry body dismisses complaint against Meta

A complaint against Meta over “potentially misleading” mis- and disinformation reporting in Australia has been dismissed by the industry group that counts the social media giant as a member.

But the complainant, Reset.Tech Australia, has stood by the complaint and says the finding underscores clear problems with a self-regulatory model that give Big Tech “carte blanche”.

In November, the online safety research group wrote to Meta with concerns about the commitment in its 2023 transparency report to fact-checking and labelling processes on Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg

Reset.Tech Australia said that fact-checked falsehoods were not always being labeled despite claims in its transparency report and provided 152 examples of where Meta had failed to label a piece of content.

Meta was asked to clarify the “potentially misleading” claim in their next report — which it agreed to — but stopped short of issuing a public correction to their last report, leading Reset.Tech to submit a formal complaint to Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI).

DIGI is the industry group representing Meta, Apple, Twitter and Google, and is also responsible for administering the voluntary Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation.

On Monday, two weeks after Reset.Tech Australia aired the complaint in the media, DIGI said its complaints body, the independent Complaints Sub-Committee, had completed its inquiries and dismissed the complaint.

“The committee dismissed the complaint on the grounds that Reset Australia produced no convincing evidence that Meta’s transparency report contained false statements,” the sub-committee said in a statement.

Under the terms and reference for complaints, a signatory of the code can only be found to be in breach if information in a transparency report is “materially false”, which Reset.Tech Australia has previously said “effectively shelter platforms from complaints”.

According to the DIGI sub-committee, Meta “made a fair and reasonable offer” to Reset Australia to update its next transparency report, which is due in May, with additional information about the “outcomes of its moderation and fact-checking process”, but that this was rejected.

The sub-committee that came to the decision is made up of “at least two independent members who do not work within or represent relevant technology companies”, with a DIGI representative taking on the silent role of secretary.

In responses, Reset.Tech Australia said DIGI’s finding was a “mischaracterisation of what happened”, with Meta offering only a “few sentences of additional narrative language” in the next transparency report and refusing to correct last year’s report.

“The decision today indicates that platforms can say what they like in their transparency reports and their source of independent audit does not have the capacity to run significant data testing of platform’s claims,” Reset.Tech Australia executive director Alice Dawkins said.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority also holds major concerns with the yearly misinformation reports produced by signatories of the code, and last year warned that they are “not working to provide transparency”.

“After more than two years in operation, there is still no accessible way for a user to determine what a signatory’s commitment is to each outcome of the code and the measures they have committed to achieving,” the ACMA said in its report last year.

Earlier this year, the regulator revealed it was developing a new set of metrics to boost visibility of the actions social media giants are taking to combat harmful mis- and disinformation.

Ms Dawkins has called on the government to step up, arguing that the finding sounds “a clear alarm” that the self-regulatory model is not working and hands too much control to social media giants.

“Big tech have carte blanche in Australia to make whatever decisions they like on our information environment, shroud those systems and processes in PR waffle, and block critical scrutiny,” she said.

“This is an embarrassment for a country that once led the world on online safety, and now lags well behind democracies who have exerted the wherewithal to legislate powers to ask tough questions of big tech and compel them to produce meaningful transparency on the public’s terms.”

Update: April 16, 2024
This article has been updated to clarify that DIGI issued the statement on behalf of the sub-committee in its capacity as code administrator.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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