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Social media giants grilled over 'foreign interference' in Aussie elections

Business

Top officials from social media giants in Australia are set to be grilled on what action they’re taking to stop foreign interference in elections.

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Senior staff from organisations including Facebook’s parent company Meta, TikTok, Google and Twitter will appear on Tuesday before a parliamentary committee on foreign interference through social media.

The companies will face questions on what steps are being taken to prevent other countries from meddling in federal elections and other government matters.

The committee’s chair, Liberal senator James Paterson, said concerns social media companies were being weaponised by foreign powers were not theoretical.

“Russia and China have notoriously attempted to meddle in US and Canadian elections, with US and Canadian intelligence agencies assessing that these governments were behind online influence activities designed to undermine electoral processes,” he said.

“Confronting this problem is no easy task. It will require a concerted effort from governments and social media platforms on which this conduct takes place.”

Greens senator David Shoebridge said concerns about social media needed to be taken seriously.

“Meta, Google, TikTok and Twitter dominate our social media platforms and they must be honest about what they are, or are not, doing to tackle the spread of harmful and misleading content,” he told AAP.

“Given the widespread staffing cuts across these platforms, it’s hard to see how they will effectively mitigate foreign interference and intentional misinformation.”

The committee had tried to get Chinese social media platform WeChat to appear before a hearing, but requests have been denied by the company.

“The committee had important questions for WeChat to answer, which we believe can only be canvassed in a public hearing,” Senator Paterson said.

“(WeChat’s) refusal to appear before the committee sends a clear message about the company and its willingness to comply with Australian law.”

This week’s public hearings will be the last held by the committee before it reports to parliament with recommendations “to ensure the integrity and transparency of social media platforms operating in Australia, and to protect the freedoms of Australians online,” Senator Paterson said.

“Any recommendations with regard to WeChat should be viewed in this light,” he said.

The committee will hear from federal agencies on Wednesday on steps they are taking to combat foreign interference.

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