Parliament told of perils of social media for Victorian electoral environment

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday September 15, 2021

Get the phone out, Dan.
Get the phone out, Dan. (AAP Image/James Ross)

The Victorian government has been asked to introduce laws concerning the use of social media in electoral advertising as part of a suite of reforms recommended by a joint parliamentary committee. 

Following a nine-month examination of the impact of social media on Victoria’s electoral environment, which included more than 120 submissions from stakeholders and major platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the committee has called for the government to limit some of the negative impacts.

Committee chair Lee Tarlamis said the review concluded that government intervention was needed to reduce ‘the harms of social media and preserve the benefits’.

Among its 33 recommendations, the committee believes the government should introduce ‘truth in electoral advertising’ laws; charge the Victorian Electoral Commission to establish a public archive of online electoral advertising; and set aside government funding for real-time social media activity analysis for the next election.

The committee also suggested that a non-partisan code of conduct for social media be developed to ensure all political candidates and parties ‘lead by example’ with good online behaviour.

Tarlamis added that the committee’s final report tried to strike a good balance between protecting individual rights for freedom of speech and political communication, while also serving a duty to the community to protect democratic institutions.

“The committee has, throughout the entire consultative process, sought to facilitate this balance fairly and constructively by informing itself with expert advice, the experience of other jurisdictions and real world examples,” he said. 

In its report, the committee acknowledged that while social media offered a ‘mostly positive space’ for political parties and interest groups to engage with voters, it also tended to perpetuate false information more than the truth.

“Social media can also give users a false impression of what the community thinks and only expose users to a limited range of viewpoints,” a committee statement read.


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