Facebook’s response to Australia’s disinformation and misinformation industry code

Josh Machin, Head of Public Policy, Facebook Australia – May 21, 2021

Today, Facebook has released its first response to the voluntary industry code on disinformation and misinformation.

At the end of 2019, the Australian Government asked the technology industry to develop a voluntary code of conduct to help reduce the risk of online misinformation.

The industry association for the digital industry in Australia, DIGI, led the industry’s response effort and launched the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, earlier this year.

Facebook is proud to be a founding member and signatory to the Code and has committed to 43 specific commitments to meet the obligations outlined in the voluntary code. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook has taken aggressive steps to combat harmful COVID-19 misinformation and will continue to work with health experts to make sure that our approach and our policies are in the right place as the pandemic evolves.

Importantly, for the first time, we have prepared selected Australia-specific statistics about content on our platforms, to encourage a sophisticated public policy debate about misinformation in Australia.

  • Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to the end of December 2020, globally we removed over 14 million pieces of content that constituted misinformation related to COVID-19 that may lead to harm, such as content relating to fake preventative measures or exaggerated cures. 110,000 pieces of content were from Pages or accounts specific to Australia (noting that Australians benefitted from the content we removed from other countries as well).
  • We have made a COVID-19 Information Centre available around the world to promote authoritative information to Facebook users. Over 2 billion people globally have visited the Information Centre; over 6.2 million distinct Australians have visited the Information Centre at some point over the course of the pandemic.

Other Australian specific commitments we have committed to include:

  • offering additional support to the Australian Government to support authoritative information about the vaccine rollout, including a substantial provision of ad credits and the offer to build a vaccine finder service in Australia
  • expanding our fact-checking partner capability within Australia in 2021
  • funding Australia-specific research and program partnerships by independent experts and academics on media literacy, misinformation and disinformation in 2021
  • extending the current industry-leading transparency we provide to political advertising to also cover social issues advertising.

The new Australia-specific commitments contained in this report are in addition to the significant global efforts that Facebook already undertakes to combat disinformation and misinformation.

The Australian Government has indicated it is spending the first half of 2021 to assess if the DIGI industry code meets its expectations. If not, the Government will institute mandatory regulation.

Facebook believes the voluntary code is a credible, world-leading first step in collaboration between the technology industry and governments to combat misinformation. Crafting new frameworks that balance freedom of speech but prevent the spread of harmful misinformation is challenging. In Australia, DIGI followed a best-practice process in developing this industry code, commissioning independent expert research, undertaking a round of public consultation and deeper engagement with experts, publishing a draft version, and genuinely incorporating feedback received into the final.

The Code takes account of the lessons of other international efforts (in particular, the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation) to incorporate best practices and address the areas where stakeholders have raised concerns.

There still remain many challenges with misinformation public policy issues, including definitions and measurement.

Finally, we need to understand online misinformation as part of a broad ecosystem of information-sharing. Misinformation can occur offline, online, on TV, on radio or podcasts, or in face-to-face conversations between family and friends. Often, sharing of misinformation may be inadvertent – but it can also be deliberately shared by political groups or bad actors. Pushing back on misinformation is a constant task, part of the essential process of open debate in a democratic society.

Facebook looks forward to contributing to the public policy debate in Australia around those questions over the next year. Through a very significant work program (detailed in our response) and support for research, we welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion in Australia.

Read Facebook’s response to the Australian disinformation and misinformation industry code in further detail here.

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