‘Stop trusting Facebook’ whistleblower Frances Haugen tells Australian MPs

“We now have a responsibility as MPs from across the political spectrum to consider how we ensure that there’s somebody checking Facebook’s homework. That there is oversight – whether it’s by regulatory agencies or think tanks and researchers – about how their algorithms are working to drive people to extremist material,” Mr Simmonds said.

The briefing was attended by a range of MPs from across the political divide, including Liberal assistant minister for regional development Nola Marino, Labor MPs Bill Shorten and Tim Watts, LNP MP George Christensen, and Nationals MP Anne Webster.

Mr Watts, Labor’s spokesman for cyber security, said social media platforms needed to demonstrate they were taking the threat of political misinformation seriously in the lead up to the federal election.

“We need to see action from them, not the empty statements we’ve seen to date,” he said.

Ms Haugen told the MPs that measures such as requiring Facebook to publish detailed aggregated data on popular URLs shared on its platforms, including groups the links were circulated in, would be a powerful tool that would help expose malicious activity by state actors.

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For example, she said it would allow researchers to “work backwards” to see whether countries such as China, were setting up “puppet sites” that appeared to be news websites but were designed to spread misinformation.

Reset Australia has backed a similar proposal, calling for digital platforms to publish a “live list” ahead of the federal election of misinformation and disinformation trending on social media, with the administration of the list to be overseen by the federal Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce.

“After hearing from Frances Haugen today it is clear that unregulated big tech is just as dangerous in Australia as it has been in the United States,” Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran, Reset Australia’s director of tech policy, said.

“The social fault lines might be different to those in the US, but Australia is not immune to the harmful byproducts of Big Tech. We know Kosovo troll farms stoked outrage in Australia with xenophobic content, bots swarmed Twitter, and Facebook spotted 2.2 billion fake accounts between January and March 2019.”

Facebook Australia director of public policy Mia Garlick said the company supported “greater and effective” regulation of the internet.

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“In addition to our own policies to remove harmful and misleading content, we support the Australian government’s calls for further regulation to keep people safe online and have been working collaboratively to advance our support on the Online Safety Act, modernisation of Australia’s defamation laws and misinformation and disinformation regulation,” she said.

A Facebook Australia spokeswoman added the company “already provides free, real-time, publicly available CrowdTangle dashboards so that policy makers, academics, journalists or interested parties can see trending content across our apps, including in Australia.

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