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Poll watchdog sheds light on false claims

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People actively spreading disinformation about the upcoming federal election are firmly in the sights of the electoral watchdog.

With as little as weeks until voters head to the ballot box, the Australian Electoral Commission has launched a disinformation register, helping to debunk multiple false claims made online.

Commissioner Tom Rogers said pointing out misleading and wrong claims about the voting process was crucial ahead of election day.

“We’re not messing around,” Mr Rogers said in a statement.

“The Australian vote belongs to all Australians, and there is freedom of political communication. However, if you spread incorrect information about the processes we run — deliberately or otherwise — we will correct you.”

Some of the claims already debunked on the online register include falsehoods that the government could delay the election beyond 2022, unvaccinated Australians would not be able to vote, or voting machines used in the US would be included as part of the election.

Evan Ekin-Smyth from the electoral commission told AAP the register was necessary due to the uptick in online disinformation in recent years.

“The environment evolved again with the 2020 US election and all of the claims there, but we’ve also seen on a lot of online channels more questions about the electoral process and ill-informed commentary,” he said.

“We want to make sure the information comes from the source.”

Mr Ekin-Smyth said the disinformation register was just part of a wider campaign to provide factual voting information ahead of the election, such as a more active and vocal presence on social media and responding to false claims.

While there have been large amounts of misinformation circulating online, Mr Ekin-Smyth said the levels of it would only intensify as the election nears.

“The election is not quite happening, yet some claims are ludicrous, and some are innocent and well-meaning but ill-informed,” he said.

“When the federal election rolls around, we will see more disinformation.”

Mr Ekin-Smyth said combating disinformation at the source was important to maintaining the integrity of not just the electoral commission, but the electoral process itself.

He said there were a number of approaches the commission could use should some of the false claims debunked in the register be repurposed by other online users and amplified on social media.

“There are a number of different theories about how to combat disinformation, one says that if you fight it too hard, then you might inadvertently aid the spread of it,” he aid.

“We have relationships with social media organisations, and if a post is particularly egregious, we can work with them to action it and have the content taken down.”

The commission also said it was already monitoring the flooding situation in northern NSW and Queensland, should polling places be unavailable or damaged by election day.

– AAP

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