Foreign interference through social media is an active threat. Here’s what Australia can do

7 Aug 2023

Dr Brendan Walker-Munro and Sarah Kendall write for The Conversation
 Follow Sarah on Twitter

Last week, a special Senate committee released a report on foreign interference through social media.

It makes for scary reading. In addition to widely publicised criticisms of WeChat and TikTok – social media platforms owned by Chinese companies – the committee found US-based platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter), Meta, LinkedIn and YouTube have been targeted by foreign interference campaigns.

Yet no one has been convicted for foreign interference since Australian law reforms on this were passed in 2018. So, what’s going on?

What did the report find?

The inquiry heard evidence of actual interference in Australia carried out using social media, such as fake Russian accounts used to stalk Ukrainians in Australia, and death threats made against foreign journalists.

Among its 17 recommendations, the report proposes transparency standards for social media companies. This includes requiring companies to have a physical presence in Australia (such as offices). A lack of this presence was one of the main reasons WeChat couldn’t be compelled to give evidence during the inquiry.

The report also recommends companies which don’t comply with the transparency standards should face massive fines or even be banned from operating in Australia.

TikTok and WeChat were also called out by the committee, with pressure building to ban those platforms from critical businesses like banks, airports and electricity providers. This is in addition to bans already in place for government-issued devices, as well as some of the large consultancy firms that work for the government.

The report also highlights the threat posed by generative AI in fuelling disinformation. On top of this, it recommends a full review of our espionage and foreign interference laws.

Read the full article at The Conversation