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Online misinformation

Misinformation is false, misleading or deceptive information that can cause harm.

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 the health and safety of individuals, as well as society more generally. We have seen this with misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines 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.
Look at images and videos closely. See if they have been or could have been manipulated.
Verify the information. Check official sources or visit a fact-checking website. Try RMIT ABC Fact CheckAAP FactCheck and AFP Fact Check.
If in doubt, don’t share it. You can also contact the platform directly if you have concerns.

Development of a voluntary code

In December 2019, the Australian Government requested that major digital platforms in Australia develop a voluntary code of practice to address online disinformation and news quality concerns. The ACMA was tasked with overseeing the development of this code and reporting on platforms’ measures and the broader impacts on disinformation on Australia.

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

The Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation was published in February 2021 by the Digital Industry Group Inc (DIGI). It currently has 8 signatories: Adobe, Apple, Facebook (Meta Platforms), Google, Microsoft, Redbubble, TikTok and Twitter.

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

The government released the ACMA’s report on the adequacy of digital platforms’ disinformation and news quality measures in March 2022.

Reporting or making a complaint about online misinformation

If you come across something online that you think is misinformation, you can report it directly to the platform or news outlet on which it is published. 

You can generally find instructions for reporting misinformation or disinformation in platforms’ terms of service or help pages. Each platform has a unique method of dealing with these types of user reports, and you may not always be informed about any potential resolution.

If you believe that a signatory to the Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation has materially breached its obligations under the code, you may lodge a complaint online with DIGI, the code administrator.

DIGI will not accept or resolve complaints about individual items of content or individual content moderation decisions. Complaints about individual matters should be directed to the signatory via platform reporting tools.

Please note, complaints about online misinformation cannot be made to the ACMA. The ACMA has no power to action your complaint or enforce compliance with the code.

View the Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce and ACMA’s fact sheet on reporting online misinformation and disinformation, including about elections.

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