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Aust Catholic bishops target tech giants

Australia's Catholic bishops say tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter put profits before people and should be fined for spreading fake news and offensive content.

But at least one Catholic educator believes parish websites themselves are among the biggest offenders.

In a statement on social media released on Tuesday, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference pleaded with tech giants to ensure users' personal data is protected and basic standards are not undermined by a drive for profit and market domination.

The statement says the core business of social media platforms is to sell advertising and maximise profits, and has called for greater regulation of digital platforms and co-ordinated efforts by governments around the world.

They also want the viral spread of fake news, half-truths, lies and slander addressed.

"Our right to truthful information and trustworthy broadcasting requires greater regulation of digital platforms, with sanctions for the spread of fake, divisive and offensive content," the ACBC said.

"Governments have a responsibility to support robust and independent journalism, particularly through the public broadcaster."

The bishops said far too often, the digital world has become a place of hatred.

"Pushing users to more extreme positions and promoting fake news and conspiracy theories sells. But this is at odds with human solidarity."

"When a white supremacist walks into a Christchurch mosque and broadcasts on social media the killing of 50 of our Muslim brothers and sisters, it becomes clearer that these platforms need to be held to account."

But Catholic journalist and teacher Beth Doherty said there were people within the church's own ranks who were responsible for bad behaviour on the internet.

"The biggest offenders I think would have to be parish websites and Facebook pages," she said during a panel discussion at the statement's launch in Sydney.

"Some of the most appalling websites I've seen tend to be (from) Catholic parishes."

She noted many groups that call themselves Christians or Catholic online don't promote the values of Jesus and they needed to be challenged.

"I think the only answer to that is just the continued dialogue," Ms Doherty said.

The ACBC also said the digital community is falling prey to automated programs such as the Twitter 'bots' that disseminated misinformation during the 2016 United States election.

"In an industry that is facing a growing backlash over the real impact of disinformation, electoral interference and data misuse, it is apparent to many that social media networks need some form of government accountability.

"Unfortunately, some nation states are doing the opposite and either ceding more of their responsibilities to tech monopolies or failing to adequately protect their information systems from malicious cyber activity.

The ACBC statement echoes some of the Pope's comments about the need for factual reporting instead of fake news and the importance of genuine human encounters on the digital highway.

"Just as we would not accept a highway built of rubble that leads us nowhere we want to go, so too we cannot accept a digital world designed to exploit our weaknesses and bring out the worst in people," the ACBC said.

Pope Francis has 18.1 million followers on Twitter and 6.2 million on Instagram, while a number of Australian bishops and religious leaders are on social media.

© AAP 2019