New rules needed for greater social media transparency

Tuesday, 12 January, 2021

New rules needed for greater social media transparency

Social media platforms need new rules that meet Australian community expectations, according to Reset Australia, which supports the ACCC’s call for new rules about how the platforms can operate, sparked after tech giants closed Donald Trump’s social media accounts.

“It’s time for social media to grow up and accept public oversight is coming. Regardless of how we use social media, or whether we use it at all, we are all affected by the current lack of accountability,” said Chris Cooper, Executive Director of Reset Australia.

Cooper acknowledged that regulating social media is a tricky policy issue, and 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.

“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. Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see,” Cooper said.

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. Cooper noted that social media platforms know how the algorithms work, and what content is 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,” Cooper said.

Reset Australia has been campaigning for a Live List, which would see digital platforms 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 track and trace misinformation online and 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,” Cooper said.

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