The Fakebook election
Micro-targetted misinformation is getting around
The fake-news story of a secret deal between Labor, the Greens and unions to impose a 40 per cent inheritance tax, exposed by the Nine newspapers a fortnight ago, is still doing the rounds on social media today. Last weekend, after following the Stop Adani convoy to Clermont, Queensland, I spoke to a voter who’d been caught by it. Eddie, president of the local rodeo association, thought the story was true, and told me that he’d heard about it from a state MP, One Nation’s Stephen Andrew. It’s a cut-and-dried case of misinformation and it’s happening under Facebook’s nose, despite a complaint from Labor and the social media giant’s own stated commitment to protecting election integrity. The Australian Electoral Commission is struggling to keep track of unauthorised material online and is otherwise hands-off when it comes to truth in political advertising, which is not regulated. It’s not good enough.
On Wednesday, as part of Guardian Australia’s “Transparency Project”, data and interactives editor Nick Evershed wrote about his project to build a database of authorised and unauthorised political advertising on Facebook, using crowdsourcing and a bot to scrape the advertising library that the social media platform discloses. The result a searchable database of 3903 political advertisements posted on Facebook by parties, incumbent MPs, candidates, lobby groups and others. His analysis shows that attack ads were generally coming from the political parties’ pages, while the more positive messages came from politicians or candidates.
Surprise, surprise, a reader submission told the Transparency Project that Tony Abbott was using Facebook for self-promotion, targetted at people who liked Donald Trump. Evershed shows that if Facebook is awash in fake news, it’s coming from the major political parties themselves, with the Liberals spreading misinformation about Labor’s fake “car tax”, for example, while Labor complains about the Liberals’ “health cuts”, which are really reductions in future expenditure growth.
Facebook, which today put out some cutesy slides about what’s been trending in political coverage in the third week of the election campaign, told me that the company had “a productive relationship with the Australian Electoral Commission and have an established channel for them to notify us of any content that violates the Electoral Act. Our team also works round-the-clock to review and remove any content or accounts that violate our policies.” In the case of the death-taxes lie, Facebook said, “We’ve reviewed these posts and, so far, found no evidence of a coordinated effort behind these posts.” So far Facebook’s investigations have resulted in one fake account being removed for policy violations. The company did not provide details.
Guardian Australia has been leading the charge, and yesterday ran an excellent story about the biggest lies of the election campaign so far, pinging Warren Mundine, Matt Canavan, Clive Palmer and both GetUp and Advance Australia. Amanda Meade’s “Weekly Beast” column today covers the fake polling for the seat of Curtin, “sent to an independent candidate as a hoax by an unknown entity and forwarded by an excited candidate to The West Australian. The newspaper failed to verify it was legitimate and published it with a big red exclusive tag on Saturday.” It’s a minefield.
“We’re not going to tolerate racist comments … that had not been declared or disclosed by the candidate previously … I expect based on information that has come to light overnight … that she’ll not continue to be the Liberal candidate.”
“After considering all the information available and consistent with previous advice, DES is seeking a number of commitments from Adani. This includes gathering more accurate population information, which is vital to effectively manage and monitor the impacts of the project on the Black-throated Finch and essential habitats in the project area.”
“Melanie Cheng is doing the most difficult, most unfashionable thing: writing about the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Her accomplishment is catching the tremors of their uniqueness and, by underlining this, insisting that everyone is interesting. Being human is in itself extraordinary.”
“A woman walks carefully across the grass outside a community hall, each step a reminder this land is where the roots of her matriarchal family tree are planted deep. Later, under the sun on a Tiwi Islands beach, she calls her fiancé to let him know she’s just learnt the word for ‘husband’ in Traditional Tiwi, a complex language isolate spoken mainly by older generations of the 2000-odd people living on the islands where the Timor Sea joins the Arafura Sea. Here is the relationship at the centre of Top End Wedding.”
“In 1977, Abbott and I drove down from Sydney to Melbourne to attend an AUS [Australian Union of Students] conference at Monash University. The AUS conference was extremely hostile for two modestly conservative boys like Abbott and me. The stench of marijuana lay heavy in the air, and every communist and Trotskyist sub-group had assembled, it seemed, its entire national membership. We found the atmosphere of the conference so uncongenial, and so threatening, that we went across the road and asked the Catholic college if we could stay there for the duration of the conference.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The fake-news story of a secret deal between Labor, the Greens and unions to impose a 40 per cent inheritance tax, exposed by the Nine newspapers a fortnight ago, is still doing the rounds on social media today. Last weekend, after following the Stop Adani convoy to Clermont, Queensland, I spoke to a voter who’d been caught by it. Eddie, president of the local rodeo association, thought the story was true, and told me that he’d heard about it from a state MP, One Nation’s Stephen Andrew. It’s a cut-and-dried case of misinformation and it’s happening under Facebook’s nose, despite a complaint from Labor and the social media giant’s own stated commitment to...