Australia’s election officials brace for interference, both foreign and technological

The risk of social-media manipulation exacerbates the fallout from an online-voting disaster.

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As Australians gear up for the announcement of a federal election, gratuitous photo shoots, media fluff pieces, acerbic speeches, and even a bit of ukulele playing by long-odds incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison have become the order of the day. But behind the scenes, concerned election authorities are debating the potential impact of growing technological dependence and foreign interference in the country’s elections.

Those concerns were writ large in the recent first interim report of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, which took a deep dive into the current climate of social-media manipulation and foreign interference—and came up gasping for breath.

Noting the ongoing inquiries into the 2016 United States presidential election and 2019 UK general election, the committee noted that “it would be naïve to imagine that Australian elections and public debates have not, and will not, be the subject of similar attempts.”

The report notes, “There are a range of foreign governments, organisations and individuals who stand to win or lose from Australia’s political and policy decisions,” adding that “experiences from overseas show us there are some foreign actors who also seek to introduce discord and social conflict as an aim unto itself. … Technological developments mean that these actors have more options than ever before to influence Australia’s processes.”

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