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Social media companies face content crackdown

Australia’s media watchdog will soon be able to use new powers to hold tech giants accountable for misinformation or harmful online content.

The federal government is set to introduce new laws in parliament later this year that would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority new regulatory powers to tackle disinformation and misinformation.

Under the legislation, the authority would be able to enforce industry codes and hold tech companies responsible for removing harmful or misleading information online if voluntary efforts prove insufficient.

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It would also be able to use new information-gathering powers to increase online transparency, as well as improve access to Australian data on how anti-disinformation measures are working.

The government is expected to hold consultations on the scope of the authority’s new powers in the coming weeks, with legislation due to be presented to parliament in the second half of the year.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said online misinformation and the deliberate spread of misinformation was a significant and ongoing problem.

“Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears,” he said.

“That is our government’s clear expectation, and just as we backed that expectation with action by recently passing the new Online Safety Act, we are taking action on disinformation and misinformation.”

The laws also provide for the creation of an action group to tackle the problem, bringing together key stakeholders from government and the private sector.

The legislation follows a report from the authority on how the issue was handled online.

The report contained five recommendations, which were well received by the government.