SYDNEY – The cartoon appeared online on Friday morning. Created by a far-right Australian party in the style of “South Park”, it has enlightened social media with its crude jokes and fake claims about stolen elections.
“Isn’t that illegal?” Another asked.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has been tagged in the stream of tweets. Within minutes, the federal agency responded by calling the video “false” and “disappointing.” The agency’s move quickly led Twitter to label the cartoon “misleading” and Facebook and TikTok removed it altogether.
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Last month’s incident reflected a growing tide of misinformation in Australia as it prepares to go to the polls on Saturday. However, it also shows the benefits of a single body overseeing the electoral process in a country.
“We are truly at the forefront of defending democracy in Australia,” said Evan Akin-Smith, AEC’s head of digital engagement. “If we’re not in conversation, arguing for elections, defending people’s perceptions of democracy, well, who?”
In the United States, elections are monitored by patchwork of biased state and local officials. Add to the Electoral College and the system can sometimes seem vulnerable to chaotic or even unwanted influences, as Americans learned in 2020.
Pippa Norris, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said “there are numerous differences between the way electoral laws and regulations are administered across the United States.” “It violates the fundamental principles of equality and continuity in the electoral process and the right to vote, leads the system to excessive bias to play and encourages numerous malpractices.”
In contrast, Australia’s electoral system has been praised by analysts around the world.
Steven J. Mulroy, a professor at the University of Memphis and author of a book on American electoral law, called it the “gold standard in electoral administration.”
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Ariadne Vramen, a political scientist at the Australian National University, noted that a few other countries have independent election commissions.
“It’s a good invention for us, as well as compulsory voting,” he said. “Australians believe in those processes. They may not feel particularly warm or confident about political actors, about politicians, and about political parties, but they trust institutions. “
That belief is now being tested.
A flood of misinformation for the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol did not spare Australia. Since the country’s last federal election in 2019, Akin-Smith says false claims about Australia’s election have skyrocketed. Some appear to be imported from the United States.
“There have been claims around the use of Dominion voting machines,” he said, quoting a baseless claim made by former President Donald Trump and some of his advisers. “We do not use Dominion voting machines. We never have, and yet people are claiming that we are going to use them and that the election has been rigged. “
As the challenge has changed, so has the AEC.
When Ekin-Smyth joined in 2011, AEC Didn’t even have a Twitter account. A decade later, half a dozen people now help him tweet at blister speeds: up to two dozen times per hour. It also has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, has partnered with TikTok in an election guide and hosted a “Ask Me Something” on Reddit.
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The purpose is to prevent counterfeit claims from spreading.
“We’re not blind to the fact that social media goes incredibly fast,” says Akin-Smith. “And the steps that social media companies can take are brilliant. But the steps that we can take quickly by responding to our channels are probably going to be more effective.”
That action is sometimes serious, as the AEC recently noted A complaint is a double registered candidate To the Australian Federal Police for investigation.
“Their meme game is pretty strong,” Broman said. “And the informal language is really important. It’s personalized. It is using the daily rules of engagement. And it’s something that people will notice and share. “
“We have a bunch of government employees,” he said. “But most Australians don’t, and they don’t talk like that, so why would we?”
As the election draws closer, the AEC has received numerous complaints about false or misleading statements from candidates, parties or influential groups. It only provides information about the political process, not political discourse.
“One party or candidate is talking about another party, their policies, their history – we can’t be the regulators of the truth for that,” Akin-Smith said. “We do not have any law that allows it. But there will be some practical problems and some perception problems if we decide on them. “
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In March, for example, a conservative lobbying group created a mobile billboard with a cartoon in which Chinese President Xi Jinping voted for Australia’s center-left Labor Party. The EC instructed the group Change the billboard – not for the message, because it showed the ballot with a check. Australians need to rank candidates or teams.
In the case of misinformation online, the agency must be careful not to respond in a way that could spread it.
On April 29, when the far-right One Nation Party posted a video falsely claiming that invalid voting had led to the 2010 Australian federal election, Akin-Smith consulted with the AEC’s legal and executive body before making a response.
“This comment about the electoral system is very disappointing,” he said Tweet From AEC’s account. “Registered parties are aware of the electoral / integrity measures adopted for deceased Australians and the electoral integrity measures, including outbound and inbound postal vote verification measures.”
Some Twitter users complained that he was not strict and that Akin-Smith used more forceful language in subsequent tweets. However, he did not want to provoke a controversy that would spread the video more widely.
Colleagues, meanwhile, have been in contact with social media organizations who have labeled the video misleading or dropped it.
“This is probably one of the more serious examples we’ve seen,” said Akin-Smith. “Some of the claims out there are wrong, and they clearly have the potential to erode people’s confidence in the system.”
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He rejected suggestions that the AEC was unfair to One Nation. The commission did not take up any issues with the earlier cartoons which did not arbitrarily confuse the public about the electoral system. One actually explains the voting of choice well, he said.
As tribalism spreads on social media, all AEC employees – including its 100,000 temporary election workers – are required to sign a declaration of political neutrality.
“There’s a lot of responsibility for that,” Akin-Smith said, “because a failed election – real or perceived – as we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, is potentially destructive.”