‘Fake News’ has been pronounced, tweeted and debated non-stop since Trump proclaimed it from the top of his twitter feed in 2017. With the 2019 Australian Federal Election looming, the issue of ‘election disinformation’ is on everyone’s minds.
Voters are confused, overloaded in fact, as more and more sources of information bombard them with ‘news’ and political landscapes continue to change. Parties are ramping up their media campaigns, and foreign powers are trying to buy a seat at the table.
Voters are relying on reputable and trustworthy information sources to provide them with the insight and knowledge they need when considering who to vote for to govern them.
But what is electoral disinformation exactly?
What is it?
Electoral disinformation is deceptive or fake information regarding an election that’s disseminated among voters via media.
You might know it as ‘fake news’, the term thrown around regarding fabricated news stories related to President Trump, Hilary Clinton, and Russia.
Sources will masquerade a story through cunning headlines or sly web page design and deliberately mislead audiences by pretending to be a legitimate source or even a meme page.
Disinformation can be orchestrated by sophisticated cyberattacks, malicious security breaches, and slow-burning campaigns where stories spring from sites like Reddit and 4Chan.
The Australian federal election is less than a month away, so here’s what you need to look out for and why it matters so much.
What to look out for
The Australian Election Commission (AEC) is helping voters recognise the telltale signs of dodgy sources with their Stop and Consider campaign. It outlines three points for voters to consider in the run-up to May 18:
Reliable: Is the source familiar to you, or do you know it’s an established publisher or media company?
Current: Although you might only just be seeing the story right now, when was it actually created?
Safe: Does this look like a scam or a dodgy source? How safe do you think your information will be if you hand it over to this source? If you don’t trust it with your information, then why should you trust its information?
Under AEC rules, electoral communications aimed at voters with the purpose of influencing their vote must state who authorised them. If you see a political message from a political party, member, or source, be sure to look for the authorisation.
Unfortunately in this free-market landscape, the onus is on the voters to verify the source of information. But there are some safe bets to avoid being duped.
Unless it’s a ‘breaking’ or ‘exclusive’ piece from a source you’re familiar with, chances are if you haven’t seen or heard of the news somewhere else then it’s likely fake. Remind yourself of the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Because of the ability for news stories to sway voters’ opinions, disinformation can have a huge impact on elections at all levels of government.
Powerful and wealthy sources can, in theory, sway the results of an election to better suit their own interests. Foreign powers can interfere too, which is why the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme has been developed. The scheme aims to provide reliable information to the public on foreign influences in Australian government and political process, making the chain of command transparent.
News can spread so quickly through social media now that stories often run-away before they can be fact-checked.
The 2016 Australian Election was dubbed the ‘Facebook Election’ when Facebook accounts blasted voters with a steady stream of memes and political parties adopted the method to target the young. Parties created their own meme accounts and produced a slew of images in the lead up to the election. To help curb disinformation and foreign influence in this year’s election, Facebook has banned foreign political ads in the lead up to voting day.
It can be hard to know exactly what’s fact or fiction online sometimes. The best policy is protection, so look out this May for dubious headlines, dodgy sources, and bizarre stories. Source all the information you need to decide on May 18 from reputable news sources and official candidate resources.