There’s a lot of talk about the damage caused by misinformation and what platforms like Facebook and YouTube should do to stop it. Increasingly, governments in Australia and elsewhere are playing a role in combating fake news — but that comes with its own dangers too.
La Trobe University’s Associate Professor Andrea Carson has published the Fighting Fake News report, which examines how governments are regulating misinformation in Australia and the rest of the Asia-Pacific.
And what she found was that while there’s more and more support for taking action to stop it, efforts to get rid of fake news are being thwarted by difficulties defining it, measuring it and fears about political misuse.
“Liberal democracies, including Australia, should be alert to the potential for any new anti-misinformation laws and regulations to be misused by governments to undermine freedom of speech and the media,” she wrote.
Unlike countries like Singapore which have laws against misinformation (which some critics claim are being used to silence dissent) used to force platforms to take action, Australia’s approach to dealing with misinformation has relied on voluntary co-operation with the major platforms.
Both Australia’s media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and Big Tech’s Australian lobby group DIGI have agreed upon creating a regulations around how platforms should respond to misinformation.
But, the report notes, the two groups have different definitions of what misinformation is.
“ACMA has a broad conceptualisation of misinformation capturing all forms of deceptive behaviour, information, and conduct, while DIGI’s proposes narrower definitions – leaves them at odds on key issues,” Carson writes.
Acknowledging that Australia’s regulatory approach is not as developed as other countries’, Carson suggests that Australia learn from other countries to help manage the problem.
Based on the many different approaches listed in the report, there’s no clear answer to how to deal with fake news in Australia. But one thing is clear: it’s a significant problem that governments need to address.