Voters asked to dob in illegal political ads appearing on social media

The Australian Electoral Commission is relying on voters to dob in illegal election ads appearing in social media because it is not able to monitor individual news feeds.

The upcoming federal election, expected in May, will be the first where social media ads must disclose who is paying for the advertisement after a law was passed last year.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) said it was relying on people to report illegal ads, particularly if they are not posted by approved political groups and do not disclose who sponsored the post.

Australians are legally entitled to know who paid for a political ad before they vote.
Australians are legally entitled to know who paid for a political ad before they vote. CREDIT:JUSTIN MCMANUS

“The nature of advertising on social media means that the AEC depends on tip-offs or complaints about the authorisation of electoral advertising on social media,” an AEC spokesman said.

The illegal ad posted on Facebook.
The illegal ad posted on Facebook.

If the AEC cannot find out who is behind an advertisement the commission said it would contact the social media provider and ask them to block it.

“To date, all people or entities the AEC has contacted about unauthorised social media advertisements have either removed the advertisements or added an appropriate authorisation,” it said.

But social media company Facebook has hit back, saying it is up to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to monitor ads.

One anti-Labor ad posted on Facebook by an anonymous group called Our Vote Our Communitywas removed by the social media group following inquiries by The Sydney Morning Herald/The Age. The community group has no links to any individuals or political parties, yet promoted a 10 second video criticising the Australian Labor Party.

“We removed this ad for violating Facebook’s policies,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Facebook said all ads must comply with its internal policies for political advertising, but said it was the AEC’s job to enforce disclosure laws. Facebook also relies on users to report illegal ads through its Ads Reporting tool.

Facebook is under pressure to improve transparency during elections.
Facebook is under pressure to improve transparency during elections. CREDIT:BLOOMBERG

Facebook has been under intense pressure in the United States to verify who is posting political ads after admitting its platform was manipulated by foreign groups during the 2016 US election campaign.

In Australia, television networks are pushing for an overhaul of rules that stop them from broadcasting political advertising days before an election, but don’t restrict Facebook, Google and online platforms from running the same campaigns.