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Misinformation’s Deadly Consequences Acknowledged by Labor MP

Labor MP Andrew Charlton has warned that “misinformation” on various digital media platforms could claim lives.

During the debate over Labor’s proposed Misinformation Bill 
in Australia’s House of Representatives, Mr. Charlton said the Albanese Labor government was correct in trying to tackle misinformation and disinformation online.

“Not only do misinformation and disinformation affect our democracy but they can inflict real harm on real people. Last year, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released research revealing that four out of five Australians had been exposed to misinformation about COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic,” Mr. Charlton said  on Sept. 4 . 

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“Who knows how many lives could have been saved here in Australia and around the world if not for the scourge of misinformation.”

Mr. Charlton also said misinformation online was a significant contributor to the polarisation of politics experienced throughout the Western World.

“Something needs to be done. We’ve already witnessed the potential consequences if misinformation goes viral and unchecked. Leading democracies around the world have endured polarisation of communities enacted by politicians desperate for power.”

Labor’s Misinformation Bill

Mr. Charlton’s comments come in defence of his government’s Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill.

The draft


advances a proposed legal amendment to stop the spread of both misinformation and disinformation, giving ACMA extra powers to penalise social media giants like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and TikTok.

These powers include the ability to force platforms and news providers to maintain records, develop an enforceable sector-wide code of practice, or potentially introduce an industry standard (developed by ACMA).

The Bill defines misinformation as online content that is false, misleading, or deceptive, that is shared or created without an intent to deceive but can nonetheless inflict serious harm. Disinformation, on the other hand, is defined as misinformation with a clear intent to deceive. 

The issue of misinformation became prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic, notably debate
 surrounding the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, a pharmaceutical drug most commonly used to treat malaria, to deal with the virus.

Many notable medical professionals and bodies rejected using the drug, including representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH). However, evidence has emerged over the past year suggesting the contrary. 

Who Can Define Misinformation?

During the debate, Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman outlined his concerns regarding the government bill, saying its vagueness could set a dangerous precedent for censorship. 

“The government’s misinformation bill is one of the most disturbing pieces of legislation ever put forward by an Australian government,” Mr. Coleman said. 

Mr. Coleman also believes the bill and its exceptions will entrench bias into how misinformation is defined.

“The government has included some exceptions to this rule on free speech. One of the exceptions is for the Albanese government itself. Anything the Albanese government authorises cannot be misinformation under the Bill but criticisms of the Albanese government can be misinformation,” he said.

“Anything that an academic says cannot be misinformation but criticisms of that academic can be misinformation.”

Another example is where the Bill outlines that misinformation or disinformation must inflict “serious harm” but fails to explicitly define what “serious harm” is. 

Further, the Bill allows content authorised by a federal, state, territory, or local government to be exempt from being defined as misinformation, while the position of Source link

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