Anthony Albanese has thrown down the gauntlet to the world’s biggest social media companies, with the Opposition Leader saying that the breaking down of “echo chambers” and efforts to stop the spread of misinformation online are key steps to strengthen democracy.
In an address to the Chifley Research Centre Conference, Mr Albanese criticised Facebook for its controversial policy of not fact-checking political posts or advertisements.
Labor has recently ramped up attacks on big tech companies, particularly in terms of the policing of “fake news” and misinformation on social media platforms. It has criticised the federal government for delaying its response to the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry, which included a number of recommendations focusing on this.
A new Senate Select Committee looking into foreign interference on social media and the spread of misinformation was also launched last week after Labor put forward the motion.
In the speech Mr Albanese outlined five priorities for strengthening democracy in order to help “deal with the challenges”.
One of these key elements was the breaking down of “echo chambers” on social media platforms, where users only view content that “reinforces and entrenches” existing views, he said.
Mr Albanese said this was made worse by the likes of Facebook flatly refusing to police content and remove objectively false statements being made by politicians and political groups.
This policy has been met with widespread criticism, including by US presidential candidates and Facebook’s own employees.
“Sadly, echo chambers aren’t just reinforced by algorithms deciding what we see. Sometimes, online platforms are unwilling to filter out content proven to be misinformation,” Mr Albanese said.
“Mark Zuckerberg says he thinks people should be able to see what politicians are saying. But what happens when it turns out that what politicians are saying isn’t real at all? Facebook usually won’t do anything at all.”
The Labor Leader said that just last week men’s rights activist Leith Erikson had posted a doctored image from Mr Albanese’s own Facebook page made to look like a graphic supporting a campaign against the family court. The fake image still included the Opposition Leader’s authorisation at the boom.
“But when we raised this directly with Facebook, they just shrugged. They said it wasn’t a breach of the so-called community guidelines. This is a far-right candidate, creating a fake graphic fraudulently purporting to be from a progressive party, and Facebook sees no issue,” he said.
“Why do Facebook’s laws of the jungle trump Australia’s laws of the land? What then happens when platforms become so complacent with misinformation that they become unable to filter it out?”
After outlining the example in the speech, Mr Albanese said he was contacted by Facebook offering to do something about it.
“The fact is the average Australian can’t have the response that I can … this thing of fake news, whereby something can appear to be from someone and it is just not, if it were in a newspaper or if you did it on radio and just said something outrageous … there could be action taken,” Mr Albanese said on Sunday.
The Opposition Leader raised these concerns personally with a Facebook vice-president when they met last month.
“I just frankly told him that his response wasn’t good enough,” he said.
The escalation of anti-Facebook rhetoric from Labor comes amid intense lobbying from the tech giants against the series of recommendations from the ACCC’s landmark digital platforms inquiry, leading the government to delay its response to the final report.
The competition watchdog made a number of recommendations regarding misinformation on these platforms, including that they should agree to new codes of conduct which would outlined how disinformation is handled, and giving users the ability to complain about fake news to the regulator.
These have been rejected by the tech giants, which regularly claim they shouldn’t be the gatekeepers of what is true online.
In the speech on the weekend, Mr Albanese said that online echo chambers and the algorithms employed by these digital platforms has led to a “much bigger polarisation of political discourse”.
“What we need is a little less anger and a little less outrage. We could also do with a little less volume. When progressives retreat into our comfort zones, we cede the ground we should be claiming. Genuine political discourse and problem solving is discouraged. Alternative views are not just dismissed, they’re not even considered,” he said.
“Politics in an echo chamber does nothing to advance a progressive agenda.”
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