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Discussion paper

Distorting the public square: political campaigning on social media requires greater regulation

Election campaigns Political campaigns Social media Advertising Australia
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Distorting the public square 462.61 KB

Social media has an enormous impact on our political landscape, particularly during election periods. There is an imbalance between the substantial influence social media has on our elections, and the scarce regulatory and management frameworks which govern it. Several issues have come to light during the 2019 Australian federal election, including misinformation, lack of transparency around who is running advertisements and the ability to abuse “micro-targeting”.

New research polling shows that a clear majority of Australians support four regulatory measures for political advertising on social media: requiring social media platforms to ensure political ads are factual and run by organisations that are registered locally, and prevent micro-targeting of ads. 60% of Australians go further, and support a ban on political advertising on social media altogether.

Australia is not alone in dealing with the impact of social media on elections. The US and the UK are mobilising ahead of their upcoming elections. In Australia as well, further regulation of social media’s role in the political sphere should be pursued.

Key findings:

  • Disparate regulatory regimes for different advertising platforms create an imbalance between traditional and social media.
  • The absence of blackouts increased then influence of social media in the final days of the campaign
  • The use of micro-targeting amplified fringe views and discriminated against vulnerable groups
  • And misinformation on social media was rife.
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