Foreign influence on social media scrutinised


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A new Senate Select Committee will look into foreign interference on social media and the spread of misinformation that undermines Australia’s democracy.

Labor put forward the motion to create the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media on Thursday in the Senate, and it was backed by the government.

The committee, which will consist of two Coalition senators, two from Labor and one from the crossbench, will inquire into and report on the risk posed to Australia’s democracy by foreign interference conducted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

It will report back in May 2022.

Senate to investigate social media

The committee will investigate the use of social media to undermine Australia through the spread of misinformation, policy responses to mitigate the risk and international policy responses. The senators will also look into whether the tech platforms comply with Australian law.

It was revealed in October that Facebook had stamped out two efforts of “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” during the May federal election.

The platform was criticised by the Opposition for not doing enough to remove posts on Facebook claiming Labor would implement a death tax if it won the election.

In a submission to government on the matter, Facebook said it’s role isn’t to “referee political debates”.

“Facebook does not believe that it’s an appropriate role for us to be the arbiter of truth over content shared by ordinary Australians or to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” Facebook said.

Shadow cybersecurity spokesperson Tim Watts this week also raised concerns with the “problematic practices” of China-based emerging social media giant Tiktok and called on the government to do more.

In a Federation Chamber speech earlier this week, Mr Watts pointed to Tiktok’s suspension of the account of a 17-year-old user who had posted videos condemning the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

The Australian government needs to get on the front foot for this issue, Mr Watts said.

“It raises an important question for liberal democracies – how should we treat international internet platforms developed and managed in illiberal societies?” he said.

“It’s easy to imagine how such platforms could be used for illiberal purposes of varying concern…or even electoral interference.

“The least we can ask for is that the Australian government ensure that it is in a position to inform Audstrlaian users of any problematic practices they may be subjected to on these platforms.

“It’s important that the government talks to the Australian public about these issues. We need to do better [and] quickly. It may seem challenging to confront these platforms now, but the issue will only grow in significance. It will be easier to act sooner rather than later.”

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