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Wednesday, May 12, 2021
BAL Lawyers
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Call for transparency on social media misinformation

Responsible Technology Australia (RTA) is calling for more transparency from social media platforms, after a series of misinformation campaigns have been circulating about COVID-19.

RTA executive director, Chris Cooper, said it was important for social media platforms to produce a live list of viral content about COVID, to show the public the volume of content.

“We have no clear picture on why people are refusing coronavirus tests (in Melbourne), but we do know that there are fast growing conspiracy theories hampering the government’s public health measures,” he said.

“Facebook and other social media platforms consistently say they are acting on misinformation, but they’ve never been transparent about the size or extent of the problem.” 

University of Canberra Associate Professor, Michael Jensen, said while he agrees the platforms should be held to account, he was yet to see a correlation between the misinformation and tests refused.

“I have seen limited evidence of that. I don’t know how widescale that problem is, but I would say in hypothetical terms you can imagine a state actor taking advantage of that,” he said.

“Generally, I think it’s important to have a strong information environment and to protect that from distortions, and due diligence from Facebook is required for reporting these activities.”

Many conspiracy theories are based around statements that the coronavirus is not real.

Mr Jensen said regulation would need to look at different contexts and categories of content.

“I think we need to put it in the context of our existing legal structures because that provides a legal justification for holding social media platforms to account,” he said.

“Do we want to empower an agency to decide what can be permissively said against political claims?

“There could be rules that say certain categories need to be transparent, but not necessarily all activity. Perhaps just pressure on entities to out communication campaigns that are directed at broad political settings but not persons.”

RTA said the current standards of accountability were not good enough.

“Every important service provider or industry in our country has an inspection and enforcement method except Facebook and other social media giants. It’s time for social media to grow up and respond to proper public oversight,” Mr Cooper said.

“Because regardless of how we use social media, or whether we use it at all – we are all affected by the current lack of accountability.”

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