The biggest social media companies in the world, including Facebook and TikTok, have been summoned to appear before an Australian parliamentary committee investigating misinformation and foreign interference online.
The Labor-led Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, launched at the end of last year, is investigating the use of social media for purposes that undermine Australia’s democracy and values, including the spread of misinformation.
The committee is also looking into responses to mitigate the risk posed to Australia’s democracy and values, including by the Australian government and social media platforms, international policy responses to cyber-enabled foreign interference and misinformation, and the extent of compliance with Australian laws.
The committee is to hold two public hearings in August and September, and has called on TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and Google to appear and give evidence.
TikTok’s potential appearance would be high anticipated, with the company facing bans across a number of Western countries due apparent ties with the Chinese government and concerns over data-harvesting.
This issue was recently raised in Australia by a number of Coalition MPs, including the Nationals’ George Christensen, who advised Australians to “get rid” of the social media platform, which is based in Beijing.
When questioned on the matter, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it’s “right for people to have an increased awareness of where these platforms originate and the risk they present”.
TikTok Australia has railed against these suggestions, and has taken out full page advertisements to combat the concerns.
“TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked,” TikTok Australia general manager Lee Hunter said.
It is unclear whether TikTok representatives will agree to appear before the committee. The chairperson, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister said the committee’s job is to interrogate these concerns and question the social media executives.
“Part of the job of this Committee is to get all of those stakeholders in the room and create a forum where we can have a really good discussion about what are the boundaries, about what is and isn’t acceptable on these types of matters,” Senator McAllister said.
The Committee will also hold a public hearing in September, and has called on representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to appear.
The Committee, which features two permanent Labor and Coalition members and a range of rotating members, held its first public hearing in June, which featured a range of academics and experts.
It is not slated to deliver its final report to government until March 2022 and will hold a series of public hearings before then.