Tech giants could be fined billions in fake news crackdown

The media regulator may soon be able to hit companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter with massive fines if they are caught disseminating fake news and misinformation.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland laid out the new plan today as the Albanese government rolls up its sleeves in preparation for a showdown with Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech giants.

The online and social media behemoths have for years struggled to combat misinformation across their platforms, leading to all kinds of societal and political flash points and problems.

Under proposed draft laws, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will have the power to impose potentially multi-billion-dollar fines on tech companies who repeatedly fail to stop and take down undesirable content.

“Mis- and disinformation sows division within the community, undermines trust and can threaten public health and safety,” Rowland said.

“The Albanese government is committed to keeping Australians safe online, and that includes ensuring the ACMA has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis- and disinformation on their services.”

Maximum penalties for systemic breaches could amount to 2 per cent of global turnover, or 5 per cent of a company’s global turnover, depending on the type of infringement.

For a company like Meta, that kind of penalty could result in an eye-watering fine of more than $8 billion.

New codes or standards drawn up and imposed by the media regulator could result in companies being forced to develop and use better tools to identify and report misinformation.

The draft legislation went out for public consultation today.

Rowland said any new law must find a balance between protection from fake news and freedom of speech.

“I encourage all stakeholders to make a submission,” she said.

Rowland said she is looking forward to introducing the bill into parliament later this year, following the consultation process.

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