Election Radar: Spread of false voter fraud claims shows us why content moderation alone can’t protect the integrity of our election
Reset Australia is investigating social media activity during the Federal election, with a focus on platform transparency, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. To support those responding, our Election Radar shared emergent case studies to track how this material is travelling across social media platforms to reach Australians preparing to vote.
Reset Australia conducts research and analysis of the distortion of public narratives by social media, we do not endorse any of the views contained in these reports, nor do we publish all Election Radar briefings.
Spread of false voter fraud claims shows us why content moderation alone can’t protect the integrity of our election
Early on Friday morning (29th April), One Nation posted episode 24 of its satirical ‘Please Explain’ cartoon series across social media platforms. The video, titled ‘Please Explain Voter Fraud’, was accompanied by the caption: ‘Voter fraud. What is it? How do they do it? How bad is it? How do we stop it?’. While the scenario of the video was satirical and ludicrous, its script included several claims presented as fact which have been labelled as disinformation by the AEC. These include:
- voter fraud has had a significant impact on recent Australian elections;
- the postal voting system has been manipulated (by the ALP specifically) to vote on behalf of deceased people, using fake identities, and by stealing the forms out of mail boxes; and that,
- this is possible because IDs are not required at polling stations.
These claims were bolstered by additional specific claims about the 2010 and 2019 elections which were also refuted by the AEC.
Following a complaint by the Australian Electoral Commission, by Friday afternoon the video had been removed from Facebook and Tiktok and been made inaccessible to viewers using Australian IP addresses on YouTube and Twitter.
On YouTube the video received over 100k views before it was blocked to Australian IP addresses. It remains accessible from IP addresses overseas.
The take down of the video has been covered by a range of outlets including Sky News, ABC, SMH, and Daily Mail Australia. While the SMH and ABC appropriately contextualised the video’s claims, several outlets spent the majority of their reports simply repeating the false claims, and the Daily Mail Australia went so far as to embed their own upload of the video into their article in full. In this briefing we consider this case study by looking more closely at engagement with the video across a range of social platforms, as well as adjacent posts and comments that have repeated and amplified its claims.
This is an important case study because it helps us to understand in more detail a pattern of sharing and posting activity that regulators face in dealing with rapidly spreading disinformation about elections, which may in fact ramp up over the remaining weeks of this campaign. Yesterday, the AFR reported that the AEC has requested 40 pieces of online content be removed from platforms (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) during the first half of the election campaign, largely also related to voter fraud. The spread of the ‘Voter Fraud’ cartoon video shows the limitations of single content take downs as very large numbers of people access carefully designed and entertaining content before it is removed. Repetition and amplification of the claims also continues in adjacent posts and in many hundreds of comments across the many social platforms.
The ‘Voter Fraud’ video had already been viewed by tens of thousands of people by the time it was removed. On YouTube, the video was viewed over 100k times, just shy of the average total views for videos in the ‘Please Explain’ series even though it was blocked within hours. On Facebook our systems were unable to capture the number of video views (because of limited transparency in Facebook’s data feeds), however we know that viewers left over 960 comments and shared the video over 1,600 times before it was removed. The Twitter video has been viewed 64.1k times. On Tiktok (where Hanson has under 8k followers) the original post was viewed 1,750 times.
After these takedowns started, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts published the video to his Telegram account where it continues to circulate, receiving 10.9k views so far and over 50 comments at the time of publishing. Echoing our previous reports, this video has also been uploaded independently, including multiple times to the Bitchute and Rumble platforms.
Pauline Hanson’s Please Explain Facebook page uploaded a clip of Sky News’ broadcast of sections of the video.
While the original post was removed by Facebook after the AEC complaint, Pauline Hanson’s Page has since shared the video of coverage of this incident by Sky News’ Kenny Report that includes clips of the video, which has been viewed over 57k times. In the clip, the Sky News hosts talk about how the video is a harmless joke, however the top comments — such as ‘Pauline must have hit a nerve and been on target’ and ‘The AEC are scared because it’s the truth’ — indicate that the most engaged viewers take the video’s claims seriously. One Nation’s James Ashby, who commissions the videos produced by Melbourne-based animators Stepmates, confirmed this is the intention of the videos to the SMH, stating: ‘There’s a sense of tongue-in-cheek in the statements used but it’s always anchored in fact’.
As we have previously noted, the comment sections across the social platforms are important spaces for the amplification and sharing of conspiracy and disinformation content. In this case, we have seen that across its many different postings, the video has provoked a large number of comments that reinforce the central conspiracy claims presented. On Pauline Hanson’s Facebook post announcing the video, the comments pick up the voter fraud conspiracy ideas. The top comment by engagement reads: ‘Until we have the army guarding the count we’ll never have a fair election’. Many other comments pick up the claims of the video about postal voting and people voting multiple times, claiming there is a conspiracy by the ALP, involving the AEC to manipulate the election by falsifying votes.
The re-posting and amplification of removed content demonstrates the futility of removing individual pieces of content when adjacent material continues to be boosted through strong engagement. Appropriate regulation of social media platforms and their algorithmic amplification of this content would serve to hold platforms accountable for the content they serve to the public. These accountability measures are needed at all times, but particularly during an election when the pace at which content is algorithmically amplified significantly outstrips the content moderation approach of public-made complaints to the AEC and its subsequent communications to the platforms. A quote from the AEC reported in the AFR yesterday said most of the referrals they make to Facebook and Twitter ‘have had an average action time of just under two days’.
When content that is deemed disinformation by the AEC is amplified to hundreds of thousands of people each day, due to a business model built on the amplification of extreme and sensational content, this is a clear demonstration of the need for better transparency and regulation of platforms and, in particular, their algorithms.