Online disinformation and misinformation

Online disinformation and misinformation can cause significant harm to Australians by creating or deepening social tensions and undermining democratic pillars such as electoral systems.

On 22 February 2021, the Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) launched the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation (“the Code”) that commits a diverse set of technology companies to reducing the risk of harm.

This article explores the key considerations including signatories to the Code and what they have committed to.


Who is DIGI?

The Digital Industry Group Inc. (DIGI) is a not-for-profit industry association advocating for the digital industry in Australia. It is the industry association for companies that invest in online safety, privacy, cyber security and a thriving Australian digital economy. Founding members include Apple, Google and Meta.


What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation?

DIGI characterises misinformation as false or misleading information disseminated online which can, but may not be intended to, cause harm. For example, individuals can share harmful false information on social media that they genuinely believe to be true.

Disinformation is false or misleading information that can, and is intended to, cause harm. For example, disinformation can be spread by malicious actors to interfere with democratic elections or to undermine public health initiatives.


Why was the Code developed?

The Code was developed in response to the Australian Government policy announced in December 2019, where the digital industry was asked to develop a voluntary code of practice on disinformation, drawing learnings from a similar code in the European Union.

In October 2021, DIGI strengthened the code with independent oversight and a facility for the public to report breaches by signatories of their code commitments. In June 2022, DIGI launched a review of the code to inform its continued improvement.


Signatories to the Code

The Code has been signed by eight major technology companies that are the founding signatories:

  • Adobe
  • Apple
  • Google
  • Meta
  • Microsoft
  • Redbubble
  • TikTok
  • Twitter

The Code is open to any company in the digital industry as a blueprint for best practice for how to combat misinformation and disinformation online.


Signatory commitments

Signatories to the Code commit to a range of objectives, some of which are optional depending on the products/services offered by a company. The commitments include:

  • Provide safeguards against harms that may arise from disinformation and misinformation.
  • Disrupt advertising and monetisation incentives for disinformation.
  • Work to ensure the security and integrity of services and products delivered by digital platforms.
  • Empower consumers to make better informed choices of digital content.
  • Improve public awareness of the source of political advertising on digital platforms.
  • Strengthen public understanding of disinformation and misinformation through support of strategic research.
  • Publicise the measures taken to combat disinformation and misinformation.


What happens if a signatory fails to meet its commitments?

DIGI accepts complaints from the Australian public where they believe a signatory has breached their code commitments.

On its website, DIGI provides general information on how to make a complaint for each signatory. For example, to complain about a result that appears in Google’s search index, click on the three vertical dots that appear alongside the URL text and select “Send feedback”.


Key takeaways

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation has been launched by DIGI to combat online disinformation and misinformation impacting Australians. Signatories to the Code have committed to a range of objectives such as providing safeguards against harms that may arise from disinformation and misinformation, and publicising the measures taken.

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