Fake news and misleading social media posts will be a key focus for authorities ahead of the federal election. Picture: Supplied
Fake news and misleading social media posts will be a key focus for authorities ahead of the federal election. Picture: Supplied

Election officials launch fake news crackdown

Exclusive: Election officials are launching a pre-emptive strike against fake news amid fears Australia could be hit by a Russian-style meddling campaign.

Spy agency ASIO will also be part of a multi-agency taskforce to monitor the election for foreign interference, while crack cyber security squads in the Defence Department have been established to counter foreign hackers who try to target government networks.

It comes as a cyber expert warns it's "too little too late" to prevent cyber interference at this election.

AEC electoral commissioner said while he had not seen serious evidence of people seeking to disrupt the federal election, there was a need to be vigilant.
AEC electoral commissioner said while he had not seen serious evidence of people seeking to disrupt the federal election, there was a need to be vigilant.

The Australian Electoral Commission will on Monday attempt to combat fake news before it hits by launching a mass social media campaign in 29 languages over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to warn voters not to be tricked by deliberately misleading posts or fake news articles.

"We've seen no serious evidence of people or organisations seeking to disrupt the coming election. But given events and trends in other parts of the world, we need to be vigilant," Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said.

"Disinformation during electoral events has become a growing concern internationally in the past few years and, while the AEC has no role in determining the truth of information, it is keen that voters stop and consider the source of information."

But Mr Rogers noted the AEC was not seeking to become the 'umpire' of political debate or the "arbiter of electoral truth" during the campaign.

Under the Electoral Act, the Commission has no responsibility to police "truth" in political messaging.

The AEC will be teaming up with ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and other government agencies to combat potential hacking or foreign interference.

It comes after the three major political parties and Parliament House's computer network were hacked by foreign spies in February and after evidence of foreign interference in the US and other countries' elections.

An undisclosed amount of funding over five years was also included in the Budget for cyber security "sprint teams" within Defence's Australian Cyber Security Centre to protect "whole-of-government systems" and "ensure the integrity of the 2019 Federal Election".

The AEC will on Monday launch a campaign in 29 languages over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to warn voters not to be tricked by deliberately misleading posts or fake news articles. Picture: Supplied
The AEC will on Monday launch a campaign in 29 languages over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to warn voters not to be tricked by deliberately misleading posts or fake news articles. Picture: Supplied

University of NSW cyber security researcher Tom Sear believes Australian democracy is "not ready to defend itself against the cyber manipulation of our political process".

"The threats are coming from within and beyond our borders," he told News Corp, adding: "The same operatives who spiked America's social media with disruptive content are also active here."

Mr Sear said Australians needed to be better educated about cyber attempts to sway their opinions or vote.

Older Australians will be the most likely to share fake news during the election campaign, according to a recent study.

Princeton University and New York University researchers earlier this year found internet users aged 65 and over shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as people aged 18 to 29 during the 2016 presidential election.


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