Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites allow anyone with an account to make public posts. These platforms give them a wide reach, meaning so many people can see the said post. Brands, organizations, and even politicians have leveraged that to connect with their communities or make announcements.

That said, social media platforms are the reason why the world is more connected today than ever. Unfortunately, there are downsides to this.

Like in the real world, you can’t trust everyone. Some will be kind to you, and others will try to fool you to gain something. And sometimes, people can hurt you even if you don’t intend to.

What Can Facebook Sacrifice for the Truth?

The same thing goes for Facebook. Not all users are trustworthy. Some will take advantage of the platform’s reach to attack a person or group of people; they will spread baseless rumors.

The problem is that not everyone on Facebook knows how to fact-check. Some will instantly believe what they just read without considering the credibility of the person who made the post. And so, misinformation is a big issue on social media platforms.

Facebook is facing increasing pressure from regulators regarding misinformation. They want to make the company accountable, especially when something like the US Capitol Riot happens. That event underscored how dangerous misinformation is and how important it is to combat fake news.

The Australian government is now trying a new thing to help stop misinformation on these platforms. They may force social media companies to turn over data on posts and audience figures. That would help the government decide whether to tighten laws on misinformation.

Media Regulators Want to See More

Communications minister Michelle Rowland believes media regulators have to see the problem misinformation poses to understand it. And the key to that is access to the data on social media platforms.

An industry code makes the social media industry need to show how it stamps out misinformation. Despite that, the Australian Communications and Media Authority can’t demand the necessary data. And social media platforms guard this data closely, so it is not likely that they’ll just hand it over.

Rowland said in an interview that having the voluntary industry code on misinformation is a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough. She says that regulators need the ability to obtain information to inform governments.

The Sydney Morning Herald heard from Rowland that there was a “strong argument” for ACMA to be able to access different data. That includes data on what posts platforms take down, how many complaints are made, and what their outcomes are. They will also be able to request data on who sees what online.

Social media platforms want your eyes glued to your screen as you continue to scroll through your feeds, says Rowland. She then adds that it is important to know which cohorts are impacted by that. That’s especially important because the biggest platforms consume approximately 2 hours of Australian’s time per day.

What Can Facebook Sacrifice for the Truth?

Thus, Rowland considers it important to know how platforms like Facebook selects a target audience for a post. Does it look at age groups, gender, etc.?

How Helpful Will This Change Be?

The regulators believe that access to more data would help end misinformation on social media. Facebook, for example, releases only partial information in its transparency reports. It shows how many posts it has taken down for spreading falsehoods regarding hot topics like COVID-19. However, it does not report how many posts are still on the platform. Transparency reports also usually don’t reveal who distributed the fake news.

It would be big if the governments could see the data platforms normally hide. That would allow them to make better misinformation laws. In turn, that will make platforms like Facebook act more proactively. 

Rowland did not reveal whether or not the gathered data would be publicly available.

Other Controversies With Meta

Misinformation is not the only problem on Facebook. Last year, a whistleblower leaked Meta’s internal research documents. It suggests that the platform knew teen girls felt using the company’s platforms worsened their mental health. However, it ignored the negatives in favor of making profits.

Rowland mentioned that Instagram recently announced that it researches body image issues and how they impact teens. She says that she welcomes that. If more platforms are like this, willing to share more data publicly, it may reduce the tension. However, she’s wary of the possibility of getting access to the algorithms that determine who sees what online.

On another issue, the Morrison government passed laws that require social media platforms to pay traditional news publishers. The Treasurer would “designate” those who refuse and make them forced to make payments. Google and Meta, owners of the biggest social media platforms, struck multimillion-dollar deals with several media organizations. However, Facebook refused to pay the SBS and the academic website The Conversation.

Rowland said that the SBS and The Conversation are important in ensuring the viability of a diversity of voices, which is a priority. The former is a public broadcaster, while the other is a player in every space. Since what they do is a priority and Facebook refused to pay them, Rowland says they will be looking at “designation.”

Would Facebook Agree To It?

Will Facebook agree to turn over the data it protects to regulators? It will probably not do that without a fight. Rowland also did not clarify if they would make the gathered data available to the public. That makes the odds even lower.

What Can Facebook Sacrifice for the Truth?

But let’s give Facebook the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it will give the ACMA what it wants. After all, it is for ending misinformation on the platform. And if they can free themselves from controversies regarding that, it will be great for Meta’s public image.

It is still a big sacrifice, though. So it is hard to believe that Facebook would want to do it.

Let’s just hope that whatever happens leads to the end of misinformation on social media platforms.

What Does ACMA Want Out of Facebook and Meta?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is a regulatory body that oversees Australia’s broadcasting and telecommunications industries. As Facebook and Meta, two of the world’s most popular social media platforms, operate within the purview of ACMA, it is incumbent upon the organization to closely monitor and potentially regulate the actions of these digital behemoths.

In their efforts to reign in the actions of Facebook and Meta, ACMA is akin to a philosopher-king, seeking to balance the competing interests of the populace with the prerogatives of the state. In this analogy, Facebook and Meta are the merchants peddling their wares to the masses, and ACMA is the guardian of the public good, ensuring that these merchants do not engage in nefarious or deleterious practices.

ACMA’s primary objective in regard to Facebook and Meta is to protect the privacy and security of Australian citizens who use these platforms. This is particularly salient in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from millions of Facebook users was harvested without their consent and used for political advertising. ACMA will ensure that Facebook and Meta adhere to robust data protection protocols and are not engaging in surreptitious data collection.

In addition to protecting user privacy, ACMA is also mandated to ensure that the content on Facebook and Meta is legal and appropriate. As these platforms are used by millions of Australians, they have the potential to be a powerful tool for the dissemination of information, but they can also be used to spread misinformation, hate speech, and illegal content. ACMA will monitor Facebook and Meta to ensure that they are taking sufficient measures to remove such content and not inadvertently amplifying harmful or dangerous messages.

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