A recent report by a special Senate committee has shed light on the issue of foreign interference through social media platforms. The report reveals that not only Chinese-owned platforms like WeChat and TikTok, but also US-based platforms such as X (formerly known as Twitter), Meta, LinkedIn, and YouTube have been targeted by foreign interference campaigns. Despite the passing of Australian law reforms in 2018 to address this issue, no one has been convicted for foreign interference.
The report provides evidence of actual interference in Australia using social media, including the use of fake Russian accounts to stalk Ukrainians in Australia and death threats against foreign journalists. To address this, the report recommends transparency standards for social media companies, including the requirement for them to have a physical presence in Australia. Companies that fail to comply with these standards could face significant fines or even be banned from operating in Australia.
The committee also calls for a ban on TikTok and WeChat from critical businesses like banks, airports, and electricity providers, in addition to existing bans on government-issued devices and some consultancy firms working for the government.
The report also highlights the threat posed by generative AI in spreading disinformation and recommends a full review of espionage and foreign interference laws.
While Australia already has tough laws in place to criminalize threats to national security, including foreign interference, recent instances of interference indicate that the problem persists. A report by the Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security found that Australian universities are at risk of being infiltrated by foreign agents seeking to steal scientific research and technology. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) also revealed that it had disrupted an attempt to interfere with an election in Australia.
Despite clear instances of foreign interference, only two people have been charged under the 2018 laws. This may be due to the challenges in obtaining evidence or difficulties in extraditing suspects located overseas.
To address this issue, the government could focus on regulating the conduct of social media companies and requiring them to take steps to prevent foreign interference. It is also important to resource law enforcement and intelligence agencies to effectively enforce existing laws. Additionally, individuals can play a role in combating disinformation by being responsible sharers of content and fact-checking information.
In conclusion, the report highlights the need for action to address foreign interference through social media platforms and calls for transparency standards and potential bans on certain platforms. It also emphasizes the importance of effective law enforcement and individual responsibility in combating this issue.