Free speech debate a convenient distraction for Big Tech

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Decisions about closing someone’s social media account should be transparent and there should be avenues to appeal, says Reset Australia, but ultimately the real harm from Big Tech’s unchecked algorithms and data usage can’t be solved by a voluntary code.

“Voluntary codes and self regulation will not work when it comes to reigning in Big Tech,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of the Australian affiliate of a global initiative to counter digital threats to democracy.

“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.”

Australia should implement rules that require platforms to be transparent about closing someone’s account and offer a way for them to appeal it. However, Mr Cooper said Australian politicians should resist falling into the free speech vs censorship debate.

“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.

“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.”

New rules for social media 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 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.

“It is no longer acceptable to have a user-beware style model when it comes to social media and digital platforms.

“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.”

Further comment: Chris Cooper 0403 353 621

More info: Suze Metherell 0412 867 084