Digital misinformation fueling Australia’s election angst

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Australians are worried about the impact of content that is digitally altered to fuel online misinformation, fearing it will have an impact on upcoming elections, according to a new consumer survey.

The concerns come as the head of the electoral commission warned the integrity of upcoming elections is under threat from artificial intelligence generated deepfakes, and there are few options to tackle it.

A survey by creative software giant Adobe of 1,000 Australians and New Zealanders found 82 per cent are concerned that online content is vulnerable to alteration for misinformation.

Almost eight in ten (77 per cent) respondents said it was becoming harder to verify whether the content they consume online is trustworthy, with a similar share seeing it as a risk to elections.

More than four billion people are expected to cast election votes in the next 12 months, including in Australia’s federal election.

Last month electoral commissioner Tom Rogers warned “significant and widespread examples of deceptive AI content” had already emerged in overseas elections in 2024 and that his agency lacks the tools and authority to deal with it.

Under the existing legislation, the use of AI to mispresent policy or political figures in political advertising is not unlawful under the Commonwealth Electoral Act as long as it is authorised by a political party, he said.

According to the AEC’s submission to an AI inquiry, AI-generated electoral content could be an offence, but without any watermarking requirements, the agency has to rely on others to identity problematic content.

Adobe’s survey found 80 per cent of people in Australia and New Zealand think election candidates should be prohibited from using generative AI in their promotional content.

The Albanese government has begun work on AI content watermarking and industry standards but both are voluntary, with enforceable regulation to come through a yet to be detailed risk based system.

Upcoming electoral reforms could also be used to tackle digital misinformation and disinformation, but with a bill yet to be introduced there are concerns about running out of time.

“We certainly have time to legislate,” Special minister of state Don Farrell said last week when pressed on the issue of AI in elections.

Non-government organisations are also working on verification, like the Content Credentials “nutrition label” system for showing when content was created and modified.

“Our Future of Trust Study underscores the importance of building media literacy among consumers, where they are not only alert to harmful deepfakes but have the tools to discern fact from fiction,” Adobe’s Asia Pacific director of government relations Jennifer Mulveny said.

“As the Australian federal election looms, adopting protective technologies like Content Credentials will be crucial to help restore trust in the digital content we are consuming,” Ms Mulveny said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment