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Online misinformation

Misinformation is false, misleading or deceptive information.

Misinformation explained

Misinformation can include:

  • made-up news articles
  • doctored images and videos
  • false information shared on social media
  • scam advertisements.

Misinformation can pose a risk to people’s health and safety. We have seen this with misinformation about COVID-19 and 5G technology.

Some misinformation is deliberately spread – this is called disinformation – to cause confusion and undermine trust in governments or institutions. It is also used to attract users to webpages for financial gain, where they may click on ads or be lured into financial scams.

But not all misinformation is deliberately spread to cause harm. Sometimes users share misinformation without realising it.

The spread of misinformation online

Online, there is such a large amount of information from different sources that it can be hard to know who or what to believe. It may not be clear where the information has come from, who wrote it, or when it was produced.

When we share something online, we do not always stop to think whether it is true. Misinformation can be new, surprising, or emotive. This can make us more likely to share it and it can often spread faster than the facts.

Tips to spot misinformation or disinformation

Check the source. Does the story come from a credible website or a verified account? Check if other credible sources are covering the story.
Look for the facts. Is the story factual, or is it just someone’s opinion or personal experience? Is the story plausible? Be extra careful if the material is related to an emotionally charged or divisive issue.
Read the full story. Headlines and images can be misleading and may only give part of the story. Check the date of publication to see if the story is current.
Verify the information. Check official sources or visit a fact checking website. Try RMIT ABC Fact Check and AFP Fact Check.
Look at images and videos closely. See if they have been or could have been manipulated.
If in doubt, don’t share it. You can also contact the platform directly if you have concerns.

Development of a voluntary code

As part of the government’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry, the ACMA is overseeing the development of a voluntary code of practice by digital platforms to address online disinformation and news quality issues.

In June 2020, the ACMA released a position paper that outlined what we think the code should cover.

The Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI) is the code administrator and has developed the code on behalf of digital platforms.

The final code was published in February 2021.

The code aims to provide safeguards against harms from the spread of disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms.

The ACMA is due to report to the government by 30 June 2021 on:

  • the code development process
  • the adequacy of digital platforms’ measures
  • the broader impacts of misinformation in Australia.

All enquiries about the code should be emailed to DIGI.

Email the ACMA to find out more about our role in the code’s development.

Next up: Online misinformation and news quality in Australia: Position paper to guide code development
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