Modern Australian

Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign

  • Written by Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne
Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign

The integrity of Australia’s electoral processes is under unprecedented challenge in this federal election.

The campaign has already been marred by fake news, political exploitation of social media falsehoods and amplification by mainstream media of crude slurs made on Facebook under the cover of anonymity.

We have seen our first recorded instance of Facebook running Australian fake news.

It was a false post about the Labor Party’s tax policies, wrongly saying Labor intended to introduce a 40% inheritance tax.

It was interesting to trace how this fakery was created.

The false post had a link to a press release issued in January by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

It said Labor’s assistant treasury spokesman, Andrew Leigh, had written an article 13 years ago – when he was an academic – that favoured introducing an inheritance tax. Thirteen years ago – before he was even in politics.

Read more: 'Fake news' is already spreading online in the election campaign – it's up to us to stop it

Then to add to the fakery, and seemingly by coincidence, the Liberal Party had a black van driving around city streets with large signs saying “Labor will tax you to death”.

The Liberals have denied being involved in the duplicity and there is no evidence to suggest they were. But the false post had just enough of an impressionistic link to the Liberal attack to make its message plausible: a tincture of “truthiness”.

Then the Coalition made mischief with it.

George Christensen, Nationals MP for the Queensland seat of Dawson, put up a Facebook post three days after the original, saying:

Labor does the bidding of their union bosses [and] the union bosses have demanded Bill Shorten introduce a death tax.

The original post also generated memes from far-right political groups, piling new lies on top of the old.

Labor has demanded Facebook take down the original, but there is no sign it has done so.

The delay is not only unconscionable, but has given the likes of Christensen and others the opportunity to cloak the original falsehood in political commentary, creating the basis for a specious circular argument. It goes like this:

Facebook posts a lie. It generates political reaction. The political reaction absorbs the lie into political speech. Political speech should not be censored. Therefore taking down the original lie would be censorship.

This is yet one more way in which Facebook’s irresponsibility taints the democratic process.

So much for the fine promises made by Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, last year on what became known as his “apology tour” of Washington and Brussels.

He told officials he would stop the spread of fake news and voter manipulation on Facebook.

He told a US Senate committee that every advertiser who wanted to run political ads would need to be authorised, and that would mean confirming their identity and location.

Yet the ABC is reporting that just months after Zuckerberg’s “apology tour”, Facebook was playing ducks and drakes with the Australian Electoral Commission over precisely this question of authorisation.

The ABC reports that it has obtained documents under freedom-of-information that show a prolonged battle last year between the commission and Facebook over unauthorised political ads from a mysterious outfit called Hands Off Our Democracy, which was paying for sponsored posts attacking left-wing groups and political parties.

The posts eventually disappeared, but only after Facebook tried to give the commission the brush-off.

The ABC is also reporting that almost a year after Zuckerberg made his promises to clean up Facebook’s act, and with Australia’s federal election only three weeks away, Facebook still has not brought its new authorisation rules to Australia.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission is on the front foot about fake news.

A Google search for “Facebook carries fake news about Labor’s tax policy” brings up as its top item an ad from the commission warning people not to be misled by disinformation.

The commission has set up a special electoral integrity taskforce, which includes the Australian Signals Directorate and ASIO, to try to head off potential threats to the democratic process.

A further threat to the integrity of Australia’s electoral process is the interplay between Facebook and elements of the mainstream media.

A few days ago, the convoy protesting against the Adani coal mine arrived in Queensland, led by environmental activist and former Greens leader Bob Brown.

Simultaneously, a private Facebook group called Stop Adani Convoy posted a number of repugnant messages, including a reference to gas chambers.

Read more: Australian governments have a long history of trying to manipulate the ABC – and it's unlikely to stop now

The post was anonymous, but it was picked up and amplified by Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper under the heading: “Bob Brown’s mob of revolting protesters liken coal mines to gas chambers”.

Well down in the story, the newspaper said it was not suggesting Brown had anything to do with this statement, an inclusion that was all about avoiding a writ for libel.

Brown said: “Some of the headlines in the Murdoch media are simply disgraceful. They’re a disgrace to journalism”.

This interaction of social media and elements of the mainstream media, in which extremist language and feverish controversy are exploited as a means of dividing the community and of promoting a reactionary political worldview, was a potent feature of the 2016 US presidential campaign and the Brexit referendum the same year.

Where the issue is highly controversial and emotive – as with climate change, immigration or Brexit – the extremism expressed on social media makes headlines in the mainstream media, raising the political temperature and fuelling further partisanship.

There is a lot of research that shows how these effects are damaging democracies around the world. The findings are laid out in books such as those by Cass Sunstein (#republic), Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (How Democracies Die) and A.C. Grayling (Democracy and Its Crisis).

An important long-term issue in the 2019 federal election is how robust Australia’s democratic institutional arrangements turn out to be in the face of these pressures.

Authors: Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/lies-obfuscation-and-fake-news-make-for-a-dispiriting-and-dangerous-election-campaign-115845

NEWS

Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

Vet: are you happy? Horse: neigh.evilgurl/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SASince ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination. The horse-lore that...

Curious Kids: how are stars made?

Stars come into existence because of a powerful force of nature called gravity.ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy SchmidtIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it...

a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

Berry, and other tourist towns, are out of step with modern museum curation which is trying to include Aboriginal communities and their stories. ShutterstockAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are...

Vital signs. Our compulsory super system is broken. We ought to axe it, or completely reform it

We're taking money from people, letting it fall through the cracks, and spending no less than we were on pensions.ShutterstockThe just-announced inquiry into Australia’s retirement income system ought to be...

Might consciousness and free will be the aces up our sleeves when it comes to competing with robots?

Our advantage lies in incommensurables, and it'll grow in importance.Franck V. on UnsplashThe rise of artificial intelligence has led to widespread concern about the role of humans in the workplaces...

What is perimenopause and how does it affect women's health in midlife?

Perimenopause lasts months for some women, and years for others. from www.shutterstock.comAll women know to expect the time in life when their periods finish and they reach menopause. Many might...

how 'city girls' can learn to feel at home in the country

Shutterstock/The ConversationA move to the country is often presented in popular culture as an idyllic life, a place where you can escape the pressures of the city.It’s in television shows...

Storm clouds avoid the bush, darken over the economy

National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says she doesn't think the government has a drought policy.ShutterstockGovernment sources insist shock jock Alan Jones didn’t drive Thursday’s announcement of a cash payment...

Julianne Schultz appointed chair of The Conversation

Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAMA has been appointed chair of The Conversation Media Group, following the retirement of Harrison Young. Since becoming chairman in April 2017, Harrison has improved The...

Cats are not scared off by dingoes. We must find another way to protect native animals

New research suggests feral cats can probably outsmart dingoes. Wikimedia/AAPFeral cats are wreaking havoc on our native wildlife, eating more than a billion animals across Australia every year. But managing...

does chewing gum stay inside you for years?

Swallowing a lot of gum can cause it to stick together or stick to food in your gut. www.shuttershock.com, CC BYIf you have a question you’d like an expert...

what Australian discrimination law says about quotas

In March last year, Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, she drew attention to the female nominees in the room and left them...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Best Out of Waste in New South WalesGlamorous Gifts - 5 Luxe Giving Options When Only the Best Will DoFood for collagenIs Rhinoplasty Right for You?Winter fun in ColoradoSlots SecretsEssential Personal Hygiene Tips for TravelingTop 3 Affordable Activities To Do In Los AngelesTop 4 Reasons Why a Gas Fireplace Is an Ideal SolutionAdvantages of Using an Insulin PumpMaths – when it’s time to break free of your misbeliefsStrictly For Women:5 Steps To Top 5 Designer Sunglasses That Celebrities Are WearingBest Paradise Islands You Should Visit in AustraliaMost Popular Mexican Destinations for Australian Visitors