Perth's quarantine escapee just tip of the iceberg of social media threat to Australia's COVID-19 response

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Perth’s quarantine escapee just tip of the iceberg of social media threat to Australia’s COVID-19 response

Australia’s COVID-19 response is under threat from unchecked social media companies, as public health authorities have little insight into the scale of the problem, says Reset Australia.

News reports that a woman left quarantine in Perth after being indoctrinated by misinformation on Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to misinformation online, says Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia.

“Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing people into echo chambers where false information is all they see. Algorithms amplify the most sensationalist or conspiratorial content to keep us engaged and online longer, but that’s often not factual or accurate information.”

It’s not just Australians leaving quarantine, the longterm threat that fewer people will be willing to take up the COVID-19 vaccine because of unchecked misinformation means meaningful action on social media is needed now, said Mr Cooper.

“Every important service provider or industry in our country has an inspection and enforcement method except Facebook and other social media giants. It’s time for social media to grow up and respond to proper public oversight.

“We don’t let restaurants just say their kitchens are clean - we have random inspections and we investigate any food poisoning.

“We don’t just accept people are paying their taxes - the tax office audits people.

“We don’t blindly trust construction firms - we have building inspectors.

Reset Australia is calling on Parliament to compel social media platforms to produce a live list of the most viral content about COVID-19. This list would be used by public health officials, journalists and academics to effectively track and trace misinformation about the virus and better target health messages and information.

“We all know misinformation is out there, but we don’t have a bird’s eye view of the scale of the problem. Only the platforms do - which is why they need to be compelled to list the most shared content about COVID-19.”

“Australian authorities and the Australian public should be able to answer questions like: What kind of content is being amplified by these platforms? Who made it? What kind of demographics are consuming it? To do that we need a live list of the most contentious issues our society is facing, so we can begin to tackle misinformation collectively and transparently.

“Because regardless of how we use social media, or whether we use it at all – we are all affected by the current lack of accountability.”