Meta election preparation too little too late: Reset Australia

Reset Australia has weighed in on the Meta’s misinformation strategy for the upcoming Australian Federal Election, citing concerns that Meta’s election preparation will not address the primary drivers of foreign interference and disinformation.

The policy research and advocacy organisation, focused on digital threats to Australian democracy, described the measures as too late, woefully inadequate and an attempt to distract from the algorithmic amplification of problematic content.

According to Reset Australia, Meta’s reliance on third-party fact checking is too slow in the election context as it occurs after Facebook’s own algorithm has served up harmful content to Australian users. The group is also critical of Meta’s failure to consider algorithmic adaptions implemented during the last US election to reduce the distribution of sensationalist material and prioritise content from authoritative sources.

The group suggests that Meta’s political ad transparency is not as effective as it is claimed to be, having recently conducted an experiment showcasing how an advertiser could subvert the platform’s ad approval mechanism by not selecting ‘political’ or ‘social issue’ ad labels. The experiment involved five fake election campaigns containing disinformation that were uploaded to Facebook and scheduled for several months time. All campaigns were approved by Facebook Ad Manager, with four being approved in less than three hours. As the campaigns were cancelled by Reset Australia prior to their scheduled run dates, it cannot be said whether these may have been detected and removed by Facebook at the last minute, or after going live.

Addressing the experiment at a public hearing for the federal Inquiry into Social Media and Online Safety, Meta’s head of policy for Australia, Josh Machin, said: “In this particular instance, I think it’s important to confirm that these ads did not go live and that it was only the initial point of our enforcement approach which would have applied. So it’s not correct to look at the exercise undertaken by this lobby group as an indication of whether our systems are able to adequately detect or enforce potential misinformation.”

“There are different enforcement approaches that we take, depending on whether it’s a political and social ad or whether it’s a general ad. Generally, political and social ads are subject to much stricter enforcement on our platform than general ads. One of the important points to make as well is we are conscious that people may choose to run a political or social ad but not declare it as such, so they’re not following our policies. We do have technology and human review in order to detect ads that might fall into that category as well, so there is a much greater level of enforcement integrity measures available for political and social ads that could have an impacts on the Australian election,” Machin added.

Reset Australia also added that Meta had intentionally failed to mention Australian-specific figures pertaining to their investment in safety and ad security, suggesting that the company is ignoring their underinvestment in jurisdictions outside the US.

Reset Australia’s tech policy director, Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran, said: “Meta has announced these inadequate election safeguards at the very last minute, on the eve of the election, framing them as preventative. Proactive action requires systemic, upstream, legally binding regulation. The company has attempted to delay this through their co-drafting of an incredibly weak, voluntary, opt-in Australian Code of Mis and Disinformation (through its industry peak body DIGI).”

“Meta is Australia’s most popular social media platform for news. It is a core part of our digital ‘public square’. Meta’s proposed actions continue to place responsibility on individuals and the public to be more aware of the harmful content that the platform itself chooses to serve them. This is gross neglect of responsibility and accountability by Meta.”


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