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Countering Disinformation Online

Technology and Human Rights
Fake News over a series of code lines

The Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) has made a submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts in response to the Exposure Draft of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 (Exposure Draft Bill).

Digital commons

In the 21st century, social media has become an integral part of our lives; we use it to connect with not only our friends and family – but with people who share our passions and views.

Social media has naturally progressed from a way to connect with those we know – to those we don’t know, functioning as a digital town square for people to share content, discuss ideas and promote news.

However, these digital commons have also become grounds for spreading harmful misinformation and disinformation.

Free expression and censorship

Differences of opinion are part of our democracy, as all Australians share different ideals on an immeasurable number of topics.

However, there is some content and views that promote untrue or hateful content that should not be permitted in these digital town squares.

This kind of harmful misinformation and disinformation can have devastating effects on human rights, social cohesion and democratic processes.

This necessarily requires a balance between censoring harmful untruths without unduly curtailing the human right to freedom of expression.

Combatting misinformation and disinformation

Ultimately to fight misinformation and disinformation, some degree of proscription of content online is inevitable.

However, it must only be done correctly with strict transparency and accountability mechanisms in place. There must also be some consensus on where to draw the line between a difference of opinion (where reasonable minds may differ) and misinformation and disinformation.

Australia should fight misinformation and disinformation, but in doing so we need to make sure we also protect freedom of expression.

Exposure Draft Bill

The Exposure Draft Bill is designed to give new powers to social media organisations and the Australian Communications and Media Authority to combat misinformation and disinformation.

Although a level of content removal may be necessary when combatting misinformation and disinformation, it must be done properly. 

Our submission

The Commission holds serious reservations about the current version of the Exposure Draft Bill’s ability to strike the correct balance.

Legislation that necessitates censorship to fight misinformation and disinformation must do so in a way that prevents harm without unduly silencing reasonable minds we disagree with.

Unfortunately, this initial Exposure Draft Bill has not found that equilibrium. However, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to engage in future consultations on any amended version of this Bill.

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