Facebook and the line between truth and falsehood - Transcript, ABC News Radio





SUBJECTS: Identity-matching bill; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg; Facebook advertising.

SANDY ALOISI: Let’s get reaction to this now. Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh is with me now. Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us.


ALOISI: A fairly rare bipartisan decision on a bill that one could say was controversial from the outset.

LEIGH: Yes, and I commend the six Liberals on the committee for standing up for the basic principle that we shouldn't allow Peter Dutton to set up a mass surveillance system. As the bill was drafted, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner noted it could contemplate intrusive surveillance of people who hadn't committed any crime. That's a concern in the abstract, but it's a particular concern when at the same time as this bill is before the Parliament, you've got Peter Dutton saying that there should be mandatory prison sentences for people who engage in peaceful legal protest activity and calling for protesters to be photographed. We need to ensure that this doesn't lead to the establishment of a huge database of facial images that would allow people to be identified that haven't committed any crime.

ALOISI: So how in your view should our parliament better try to balance the needs of our security agencies with the privacy of Australians?

LEIGH: For the Minister for Home Affairs, it's back to the drawing board. The parliamentary committee has said very clearly that this bill is inadequate and needs to be significantly redrafted.

ALOISI: But how would you do that sort of thing?

LEIGH: It’s up to the government to redraft its bills. The Opposition isn't bringing the legislation forward. But clearly as we have said, as the bipartisan committee has said, it needs to have a much stronger focus on privacy and transparency. We need to ensure that you can't use CCTV as a means of blanket surveillance.

ALOISI: Okay then. Let's go to other matters, though although not totally unrelated. As we're reporting today, Mark Zuckerberg has appeared before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington. He's been asked about Facebook policies around misleading political advertising, hate speech, data protection. What's your view of Mark Zuckerberg and the way Facebook stands at the moment, given it's been through so much controversy recently?

LEIGH: As the questions from Representative Ocasio-Cortez highlighted, Facebook’s policy on fact-checking just isn't very clear. She gave him the example of whether she could run ads targeting Republicans, falsely saying that they voted for the Green New Deal. Mr Zuckerberg wasn't able to answer that question. So while Facebook is making millions of dollars from running political advertisements, it's not providing the level of transparency and truthfulness that Australians expect and that Americans expect.

ALOISI: And of course he was before the committee today trying to get regulatory approval for Facebook’s proposed crypto currency, Libra. At this point is the proposal for the crypto currency an overreach, do you think?

LEIGH: I’ve asked the various Australian economic policymakers about this, and they say at the moment it's really just an issue for the United States, that Facebook is barely engaging with regulators in any other country because their first question is whether or not they can get their cryptocurrency approved in the US. I suspect they’ll ultimately have an uphill battle. But it'll be a matter for Australia if it's approved the American authorities.

ALOISI: So when you think about the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters currently examining these very issues in regard to Facebook, how would you think they apply in the Australian context?

LEIGH: Australians have even less transparency over political ads on Facebook than Americans. There’s a thing called the Facebook Ad Library - it launched in the middle of last year in the United States - that now applies a fairly comprehensive level of transparency to political advertisements running in the US, in Britain, in the European Union, India, Brazil, the Ukraine. But it doesn't apply to Australia. The level of detail you get about political ads running on Facebook in Australia is much more limited. You can't see the detail of how they're being targeted, how much is being spent. You don't get the reports about who are the top advertisers, and that's really important. Stepping aside from the question of falsehoods, simply knowing what's out there is vital to taking it on.

ALOISI: So given what we know about what's occurred in the United States with the presidential election campaign there, how much of a threat do you think Andrew Leigh that Facebook is, or any social media for that matter, to the integrity of a political election campaign?

LEIGH: These platforms need to be brought up to the standards the community expects. We need that basic level of transparency. There's no reason there should be less transparency for political ads running in Australia on Facebook than there is in the United States. Other platforms need to also do the same level of reporting, whether that's Instagram, YouTube, Google, or Twitter. We need to make sure also that we have a clear line on falsehoods. Facebook has said that it's not going to allow falsehoods to be propagated, for example, ads telling Americans that they don't need to participate in their 2020 census. So clearly Facebook has got a line between truth and falsehood. What I said to the Parliament today is that that needs to be applied more rigorously - so we have elections based on a contest of ideas not just a farrago of lies.

ALOISI: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time this afternoon.

LEIGH: Absolute pleasure.


Authorised by  Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.