Social media giants need new rules that meet Australian community expectations, says Reset Australia.
“It’s time for social media to grow up and accept public oversight is coming,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia.
“Regardless of how we use social media, or whether we use it at all – we are all affected by the current lack of accountability.”
The Australian affiliate of a global initiative to counter digital threats to democracy backs the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s call for new rules about how the platforms can operate, sparked after the tech giants closed Donald Trump’s social media accounts.
“Regulating social media is a tricky policy issue. But if we start from a position that these decisions shouldn’t be left to a few tech billionaires with no accountability then we’re on the right path.”
Mr Cooper said the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not neutral platforms or democratic public squares, but curated spaces where algorithms supercharge sensational and conspiratorial content to keep audiences engaged for longer.
“Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some of people into echo chambers where false information is all they see.
“We don’t have oversight on how these algorithms operate, only that they amplify the most sensationalist content to keep us online and keep the platforms making mega bucks from our engagement.”
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 a regulatory body with the power and access to audit these algorithms 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 Covid-related 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.
“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.”
About Rest Australia
We are the Australian affiliate of Reset, the global initiative working to counter digital threats to democracy. As the Australian partner in Reset’s international network, we bring a diversity of new ideas home and provide Australian thought-leaders access to a global stage. We work exclusively in Australia on public policy advocacy, research, and civic engagement to strengthen our democracy.
The business models of Big Tech companies – data aggregators, social platforms and online media – expose the public to unprecedented levels of hate speech, disinformation and polarisation. This distortion poisons the public debate and weakens the integrity of self-government.
We must reset the rules and standards for the products and services that are at the centre of these problems to ensure these technologies work to strengthen our democracy and improve our lives.
We must raise awareness across society about the problems with Big Tech and advocate for better policy to address digital threats to Australian democracy.