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Facebook still approving ads with explicit disinformation as election campaigning ramps up

Misinformation Democracy Election campaigns Information dissemination Social media Elections Australia

The spread of information intended to manipulate, coerce and deceive others for economic or political gain is nothing new. Yet, at no other point in human history has anyone had the ability to target and reach populations at the scale available through social media.

Australia is due to have a Federal election in a few months. The AEC is preparing to combat Trump-style claims around election integrity, which is not inconceivable given misinformation about dominion electronic voting machines - which were at the centre of Trump’s stolen election conspiracy - has already circulated in Australia. The role of disinformation in influencing elections catapulted into public consciousness through Brexit, the 2016 US Presidential election, and the 2019 federal election in Australia. This threat continues to grow, with ASIO stating in its recent annual threat assessment that foreign interference (increasingly occurring via social media) is now Australia’s principal security concern, and that COVID has sent online radicalisation into overdrive.

People have a right to participate in the digital world without being subject to a web of targeting and manipulation - this is not just about privacy, it is about freedom of expression, non-discrimination and freedom of thought. This is particularly crucial as we exercise our democratic right to vote. Given Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is Australia’s most popular social media platform for news, researchers decided to make it the focus of this experiment.

This simple experiment sought to test Facebook’s ad review system by attempting to approve advertisements that explicitly promoted election disinformation narratives that were common in the last US election.

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