Google and AAP Launch New Fact-Checking Partnership to Tackle ‘Misinformation’

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AAP FactCheck will ‘expand significantly’ under the deal.

Global tech giant Google and the Australian Associated Press (AAP) have launched a partnership to expand fact checks for “mis and disinformation” in Australia and New Zealand.

AAP Fact Check’s capacity will “expand significantly” under the deal and will also look into “global misinformation trends.”

The news comes amid federal Labor’s push to bring in mis and disinformation laws into Australia, which would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) power to patrol information online.
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is calling for the federal government’s misinformation laws to be shelved on the back of an analysis that found fact checkers were “biased.”

In a statement, the AAP and Google explained their partnership will enable AAP FactCheck to “analyse global misinformation trends and produce explainers.”

The new program will ensure “accurate and reliable information is provided to over 380 publications across both countries for the benefit of all online users,” AAP and Google said.

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The companies said the deal will elevate the speed and quantity of the work to “get ahead of misinformation trends” that have appeared in “other parts of the world” before they emerge in Australia and New Zealand.

AAP CEO Lisa Davies said the information environment has never been more challenging for journalists, newsrooms, and audiences.

“This partnership with Google will see AAP FactCheck’s capacity expand significantly, reducing the harmful mis and disinformation Australians are encountering every day,” Ms. Davies said.

Google AUNZ News Lab Lead Uma Patel said the partnership was a “leading force in the fight against misinformation and disinformation.”

“AAP has a strong record of calling out false and misleading claims in Australia and New Zealand, we’re excited to see their work grow and reach more people.”

Fact Checking Biased: IPA

The IPA analysed 970 fact checking articles undertaken by multiple fact checking organisations in Australia.

The free market public policy think tank found 65 percent of fact checking investigations delivered verdicts favourable to left-of-centre politicians. Meanwhile, 35 percent were positive to right-of-centre politicians.

The research also found that 94 percent of fact checking investigations related to COVID-19 targeted critics of the official response.

Further, 81 percent of fact checking investigations on climate change and energy policy targeted critics, and almost no claims by activists predicting an imminent catastrophe were investigated by fact checkers.

“The federal government’s deeply flawed, anti-free speech misinformation laws must be shelved as new research has uncovered the entrenched bias of Australia’s main fact checking organisations,” IPA director of law and policy John Storey said.
“Under the federal government’s proposed laws, fact checking bodies will be given enormous weight to determine what social media companies censor in order to avoid fines that can potentially range into the millions of dollars.”

Home Affairs Referred Thousands of Social Media Posts During COVID-19

Meanwhile, the Department of Home Affairs referred more than 4,700 media posts to the digital industry during COVID-19, of which more than 3,000 were removed.

The news was contained within the department’s submission to the Australian government COVID-19 Response Inquiry.

“During the pandemic, the department monitored social media content for harmful misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines and referred content to digital industry for review, based on criteria and advice from [the Health Department],” the department said (pdf)

The government provided $62.8 (US$40.9 million) over five years to the department to strengthen Australia’s “social cohesion and community resilience” during COVID-19 as part of the 2020 and 2021 budget.

“Between 16 March 2020 and 19 May 2023, 4,726 social media posts were referred to digital industry for review against their content policies and terms of service, of these, 3,098 were actioned by the relevant social media company with content removed or its distribution reduced.”

The contract for COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation referrals expired at the end of June 2023 and was not renewed, according to the department.

Misinformation And Disinformation Bill

The federal government released a proposed Communications and Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill (pdf) in 2023.

A public consultation on the proposed legislation was held from June 24 to Aug. 20, 2023. While the bill was originally slated for introduction to parliament in late 2023, the government delayed the introduction to consider possible changes including religious expression.

“The government is considering refinements to the bill, including to definitions, exemptions, and clarification on religious freedom, among other things,” Ms. Rowland said on Nov. 12.

“In the face of seriously harmful content that sows division, undermines support for pillars of our democracy, or disrupts public health responses, doing nothing is not an option.”

The Opposition expressed late in 2023 that it was “fundamentally opposed” to Labor’s misinformation bill.

Speaking to Parliament on Nov. 13, Shadow Minister for Communications David Coleman said it was “one of the worst pieces of legislation ever put before this parliament.”

“The government has begun the process of walking that back, of delaying the bill, of taking provisions out of the bill because it is, frankly, one of the worst pieces of legislation ever put before this parliament,” he said.

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