IPA Research: Internet Censorship Laws Must be Abandoned Due To Fact Checking Bias

Written by:
1 April 2024
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“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,” said John Storey, Director of Law and Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Today, the IPA released a new report analysing the fact checking investigations undertaken by the three main fact checking organisations in Australia – AAP FactCheck, RMIT FactLab, and RMIT ABC Fact Check.

For the first time in Australia, the IPA investigated some 970 fact check articles dating as far back as January 2019. The research established:

  • 65 per cent of fact checking of claims by political figures delivered verdicts favourable to left-of-centre politicians. Just 35 per cent could be assessed as favourable to right-of-centre politicians.
  • 94 per cent (502 of 534) of fact checking investigations relating to Covid-19 matters targeted critics of the official response to the pandemic.
  • 81 per cent (124 of 153) of fact checking investigations relating to climate change and energy policy targeted critics.
    • Almost none of the controversial claims made by activists, such as predictions of imminent catastrophe, have been investigated by the fact checkers.

“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,” said Mr Storey.

“As Elon Musk has said, ‘Having government ‘factcheckers’ is a giant leap in the direction of tyranny’; and this is precisely what the federal government’s bill will create; fact checkers, empowered by law, to censor online opinion to the satisfaction of an opaque government body or the Minister herself.”

A key principle of the International Fact-Checking Network, the private fact checking accreditation body, is that signatories commit to “non-partisanship and fairness” and to “not concentrate their fact-checking unduly on any one side.”

“The IPA’s research establishes this is clearly not occurring in Australia. The research shows that these organisations cannot be trusted as the arbiters of truth. They are artivist organisations pushing their own political agendas. This was highlighted again in the matter between the ABC and Dick Smith,” Mr Storey said.

The new findings are consistent with previous research conducted by the IPA into the 2023 Voice referendum campaign, which found that the fact checkers overwhelmingly and unfairly targeted proponents of the “No” case. The fact checkers investigated 187 claims made about the Voice, with 170 of them, or 91 per cent, targeting proponents of the No case.

“It is clear that if these organisations are empowered to determine what is misinformation, it will only censor critics of official government policies and the centre-right,” said Mr Storey.

A letter from Minister Rowland to the Prime Minister, obtained under freedom of information laws last year, revealed that the Minister expects that third party fact checkers will enforce censorship under the government’s proposed misinformation laws.

“The government’s proposed misinformation and disinformation laws are the single biggest attack on freedom of speech in Australia’s peacetime history, and have no place in a liberal democracy such as Australia,” said Mr Storey.

To download the IPA’s research click here.

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