Australia officials work with social media to safeguard poll

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian electoral authorities have for the first time set up a cybersecurity task force and are working with social media companies to tackle misinformation in the run up to general elections on May 18, an official said on Thursday.

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said safeguarding the election's integrity gained priority due to experiences in other countries, including Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that included use of social media.

Rogers said he was having daily briefings with the Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force, which comprises the nation's major security agencies and government departments.

He declined to detail the task force's functions, but said they included dealing with disinformation spread through social media.

"The major task, in my view, for the cyber task force is to make sure that all of our electoral systems are safe and secure and that's occurring constantly, but at the same time we're also alert to this idea of disinformation," Rogers told reporters.

Rogers said he was in almost daily contact with social media companies Facebook, Google and Twitter.

It is an offense against Australia's Electoral Act to send messages to multiple people designed to influence their vote without publishing who authorized the message.

Since the election was called last week, electoral authorities had examined 15 formal complaints relating to social media, Rogers said. Three warnings had been sent to Facebook page owners and electoral authorities had referred four matters to Facebook to remove content, he said. Content had been removed in two cases and another two cases had yet to be resolved.

Rogers could not say whether any of the complaints related to overseas interference.

"I don't want to criticize the social media companies because they're really working with us very well at the moment," Rogers said.

He described the level of cooperation as a "dramatic change" since electoral authorities raised complaints about social media around a series of by-elections in July last year.

Facebook announced two weeks ago that it was implementing a number of measures to protect the Australian election's integrity, including removing fake accounts, reducing misinformation and increasing ad transparency.

Electoral ads bought from outside Australia are temporarily banned by Facebook.

Australia's conservative government is fighting an uphill battle against the center-left opposition Labor Party to win a third three-year term in office

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