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Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate

  • January 14 2021
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Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate

By Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
January 14 2021

Australia is being urged to implement rules that require social media platforms to be transparent when closing someone’s account and offer a way for them to appeal it. However, politicians are being warned to resist falling into the free speech versus censorship debate.

Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate

Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate

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  • January 14 2021
  • Share

Australia is being urged to implement rules that require social media platforms to be transparent when closing someone’s account and offer a way for them to appeal it. However, politicians are being warned to resist falling into the free speech versus censorship debate.

Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate

Twitter’s permanent suspension of US President Donald Trump has raised concerns over the power of big tech, drawing the world into a free speech versus censorship debate.

But the global initiative working to counter digital threats to democracy believes that the debates around free speech are quite a convenient distraction for the platforms.

According to Reset, what social media users really need to be worried about is the algorithms that have created a toxic environment and fuelled real world violence.

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“It’s right for there to be concern about a few tech billionaires with no accountability making these decisions, but ultimately debates around free speech end up being quite a convenient distraction for the platforms,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of the Australian affiliate of Reset.

“It means we focus too much on what an individual is posting rather than on the algorithms that have created a toxic environment and fuelled real-world violence.

“Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have done nothing to meaningfully address issues of hate speech and misinformation because they profit from the high engagement rates it generates on their platforms,” Mr Cooper warned.

He called for stronger government involvement in policing the work of big tech, warning that a voluntary code can’t solve unchecked algorithms and data usage.

“Voluntary codes and self-regulation will not work when it comes to reigning in big tech.

“We’ve seen in Europe that voluntary codes have largely been ignored by the platforms. In Australia, the digital platforms offered ACMA a very weak disinformation code, based on a failed EU version.”

Mr Cooper believes that Australia should implement rules that require platforms to be transparent about closing someone’s account and offer a way for them to appeal it.

These new rules, he said, need to come with greater transparency and understanding of how these algorithms operate and the extent of misinformation and hate speech online.

“Only the platforms have a bird’s eye view of how the algorithms work and what content is getting amplified. We need an audit so that we can begin to understand how exactly they operate and how they can meet community expectations.”

Reset Australia has been campaigning for a Live List, which would see digital platforms compelled to maintain a list of the most viral URLs being shared on the platforms.

This list, Mr Cooper explained, could be used by public health officials, journalists and academics to effectively track and trace misinformation online and then better target public health messaging.

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

“Australian authorities and the Australian public should be able to answer questions like: What kind of content is being amplified by these platforms? Who made it? What kind of demographics are consuming it? To do that, we need a live list of the most contentious issues our society is facing, so we can begin to tackle misinformation collectively and transparently.

“Tech giants have created platforms that produce both mega-profits and serious societal problems. If they accept the profits, they must also accept the oversight,” Mr Cooper warned.

Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate
Government called to toughen rules for big tech amid free speech debate
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About the author

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Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of nestegg and Smart Property Investment. Email Maja at [email protected]

About the author

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Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic is the editor of nestegg and Smart Property Investment. Email Maja at [email protected]

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