(Australian Associated Press)
Australia should have an independent authority to oversee social media platforms and protect its citizens from harm, senators have been told.
Jake Wallis and Thomas Uren, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told a Senate inquiry into foreign interference through social media that the coronavirus pandemic has been used to harness the public’s fears, with scams, conspiracy theories and states trying to gain advantage.
The pair gave evidence in their personal capacity rather than speaking on behalf of ASPI.
“The pandemic has created a perfect storm of informational manipulation, with state and non-state actors echoing each other’s theories, tactics and techniques,” Dr Wallis told the committee hearing on Monday.
He said China’s messaging had been focused on the nation being well-equipped to respond to coronavirus, that it was helping other countries and criticising other nations’ responses.
ASPI has recently worked with Twitter on its investigation into a China-linked network of nearly 174,000 social media accounts.
Dr Wallis says an independent statutory authority is needed to observe and report on how social media platforms are operating, in a bid to reduce harm for citizens.
The authority would be granted explicit insight into how content is filtered, blocked, amplified or suppressed.
In order to deal with a problem its scale, scope, capabilities and intent must be known, he added.
“If society does not understand the threat then we remain vulnerable.”
The pair also urged senators to fund independent civil society groups to research malign operations, using transparency as a deterrence measure.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said last week that China and Russia were spreading disinformation online in a bid to undermine Western democracies.