CANBERRA, AAP – Forcing Facebook to be more transparent with its data and better whistleblowing protection laws have been debated in a bid to make the tech giant more accountable in Australia.
Politicians were briefed on the dangers the social media giant poses ahead of the federal election and to democracy in general as Australian lawmakers target social media regulation.
Parliamentarians were told Facebook was fearful of regulations in the United States, where it has invested the bulk of its fact-checking funds.
Ex-employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen said the Australian government should work more closely with the US in forcing Facebook to be more transparent.
“Facebook’s pattern of behaviour, in terms of where they invest their integrity resources, shows that they know they are vulnerable to regulation in the United States at a minimum,” Ms Haugen said.
“(Australia) does not get anywhere near as much third party fact checking as (it) deserves.
“They have done their best to keep the US as safe as possible because they are scared the Congress is going to do something.”
Ms Haugen accused the social media giant of pushing extreme material online to get more clicks from users.
This forced political groups to post more polarising and extreme content on the platform so it would perform better.
“Political parties … would tell Facebook researchers ‘we are being forced to take positions that we know our constituents do not like, because … if we did not put out extreme things, it was just crickets’,” Ms Haugen said.
“The fact is that parties have to play a game they do not want to play.
“Facebook should not get to choose what we vote on, we should get to choose what we vote on.”
Ms Haugen said mandatory reporting of data would allow independent researchers in Australia to discern information patterns that are dangerous to the community and democracy.
“(Transparent data) allows you to work backwards and be able to identify things like China … setting up all these new websites that look like real news sites from different places in Australia (but) are just spreading misinformation.”
A Facebook spokeswoman told the ABC the company supported more effective regulation to make the internet safer and reduce misinformation.
The head of the Australian Electoral Commission, Tom Rogers, said in the agency’s latest annual report the next federal election carried an increased risk of misinformation.
Labor cybersecurity spokesperson Tim Watts said this had already happened at the last election.
Mr Watts raised the possibility of the platform posting a live list of misinformation that was trending in the hope of reducing people’s susceptibility to such links.
Social media regulation is back in the government’s sights after senior government ministers slammed the individuals who harass and disparage people online anonymously.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled social media as a “cowards palace”, saying people needed to be held responsible for what they said online.
New laws coming into effect in January will give the eSafety Commissioner the power to issue a takedown notice of online posts intending to cause serious harm or that are menacing and harassing.
The post must be taken down within 24-hours after the notice is given.