Australia sees ‘Trump-style’ disinformation in ‘Voice’ campaign | ET REALITY


Ballots, according to official instructions, must be marked “yes” or “no.” A clear, legible “y” or “n” is also likely to be counted. So is a check mark, to say yes, but authorities consider an “X” too ambiguous and does not count as a “no” vote.

This is how Australians have voted in constitutional referendums for decades. But as the debate over this month’s “The Voice” Aboriginal referendum has become increasingly antagonistic and polarised, the process has come under attack.

For the first time since experts can remember, the leader of a major political party in the country has questioned the integrity of an electoral process. Conspiracy theories about rigged elections, such as those that have led to the assault of government buildings in the United States and Brazil, have resonated from the far right of political sectors, generating alarm. Election officials have defended themselves but have faced criticism on social media.

“We can look back on the Voice referendum as a turning point when electoral lies and conspiracies became widespread in Australia,” said Kurt Sengul, a professor at the University of Sydney who studies far-right populism. The current debate in the country, he added, was “the first significant Trump-style disinformation and disinformation campaign we have seen in recent political history,” referring to former President Donald J. Trump.

And while Australia is not at immediate risk of experiencing the kind of electoral denial seen in the United States, Sengul added: “That does not bode well for Australian democracy.”

The referendum, on the creation of a body to advise Parliament on Aboriginal issues, has bitterly divided Australia and led to a series of unfounded claims on social media, including that the advisory body could confiscate property or land, or that would be required of residents. pay rent to indigenous people if the referendum was approved.

Caught in the turbulence is the question of why a check mark on a ballot counts as a vote while an “X” does not.

Longstanding legislation requires officials to count votes as long as voters’ intent is clear, even if they do not follow the instructions on the ballot. Legal advice Over the decades, it has been confirmed that an “X,” which many people use on forms and documents to indicate “yes,” does not show clear intent.

However, some experts and politicians have suggested that the variation is unfair. The leader of the opposition Conservative party, Peter Dutton, said he did not want “a rigged process”.

Dutton did not respond to requests for comment. Fair Australia, which is leading the opposition to the referendum, said in a statement: “We understand the rules regarding formality, but we believe they give an unfair advantage to the ‘Yes’ campaign. “The responsibility for any erosion of trust lies with those who established the unfair rules, not with those who denounce them.”

Unlike in the United States, where national elections are run by a patchwork of state and local officials, in Australia they are administered by an independent agency, the Australian Electoral Commission, which enjoys widespread trust and support and is widely praised by analysts.

The agency aims to make voting, which is mandatory in Australia, as accessible as possible. During federal elections, mobile polling stations are brought to remote Indigenous communities via helicopters, all-terrain vehicles and even boats.

“The AEC is the gold standard for how elections should be run,” said Bruce Wolpe, who wrote a book called “Trump’s Australia.” He added that when Australians go to the polls, “they know their vote will be counted accurately and they will respect the results, and that’s a big problem in terms of how this democracy works in contrast to the United States.”

The commission acted quickly to counter inaccurate claims about the referendum, responding to social media posts, sending officials to radio and television shows and condemning much of the commentary on the issue as “factually incorrect.”

In addition to addressing the issue of the check and “X” marks, during this referendum campaign, the commission has debunked suggestions that ballots not stored safelyrejected claims that the the referendum would not take place and discussed with users who flushed information leaflets down toilets, sometimes responding to hundreds of comments on social media a day.

But even as officials have become more assertive in the fight against disinformation, their task is becoming more difficult.

For several years now, experts have watched political polarization and the spread of voter fraud conspiracies in the United States and are concerned that such rhetoric will seep into Australia’s domestic politics because of the close ties between the two countries.

“It’s an ongoing concern that we’re seeing groups taking inspiration from American politics that is highly polarized and trying to export those tactics here,” said Josh Roose, a political sociologist at Deakin University in Melbourne.

Tom Rogers, the electoral commissioner, said that after Australia’s 2019 federal election, he “really started to worry about what we were seeing globally.” His agency realized that it was not enough to conduct elections in a fair and good manner.

“You have to tell people what you’re doing,” he said.

The commission began conducting digital literacy campaigns to educate voters about fake news, work with social media companies and counter incorrect claims about the online electoral process.

His strategy caught national attention during last year’s federal election, when his wry humor (including supplicant That voters did not draw an “eggplant emoji” on their ballots generated both praise and criticism.

On social media, the agency tries to respond to as many comments as possible, even those that may seem outlandish, said Evan Ekin-Smyth, who is leading that effort.

“We take an approach of: Unless you’re going to engage in something that’s deliberately false, deliberately bad faith, we’ll give a response,” he said. “Why not? We are there to provide fact-based information about the process we run. No matter how crazy a theory may seem, some people believe it.”

However, the agency took the humor out of the referendum because it was experiencing new levels of attacks on social media, including, for the first time, threats of physical harm, Rogers said.

Mr Ekin-Smyth admitted that the agency’s strategy would probably not change the minds of all those who are determined to believe conspiracy theories, but he hoped that by injecting accurate and factual information into the discussion, the commission could help to prevent these theories from spreading further.

“Does it feel like we’re pushing a rock up a hill? Sort of, sometimes,” she said. But “if we keep that rock from rolling downhill, it’s pretty good, right?”

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