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The Voice to Parliament referendum debate and effects of misinformation and disinformation

[by Bruce Andrews]

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While debate is a healthy function of democracy, misinformation and disinformation often crowd out facts and discussion.

In the current Voice to Parliament referendum campaign, key facts are being misrepresented.

Most of this is a free-wheeling cycle of error, lies or venom on social media. Some of that misinformation can be traced back to prominent figures, official sites, and statements from the ‘No’ campaign.

The techniques being used in Australia have been imported from the US to a worrying extent. The post-truth world arose during the first Trump presidential campaign and Donald Trump’s subsequent presidency.

In Australia, one example is the supposed $30 billion to $40 billion (depending on the source) of government money spent on First Nations people each year. This figure has been used to suggest that there’s already enough, or too much, being done to assist First Nations Australians.

But this figure is never quoted with its source. The source - the Productivity Commission quoting 2015-16 numbers, collated a completely different expenditure to that which the number is used for, as explained in various sources.

Other examples of often-repeated claims that are untrue and have been fact-checked by independent sources include:

 

Social media is the site of a lot, but not all, of this misinformation and disinformation.

Social media and the internet more broadly are a massive force for democratising people’s access to information and to presenting their own views to audiences all over the world.

The technology has, to an extent, liberated individuals from the limits imposed by mainstream media, which previously mediated most communication in society.

This positive development that empowers individuals brings in its wake vast torrents of lies, distortion and nonsense, which wash through our communication channels every minute, every hour, every day.   

Even the Calare electorate’s local member of federal parliament, Mr Andrew Gee, believes this is a significant problem.

Mr Gee, who left the National Party so he could publicly support the Voice proposal, told a Bathurst audience in mid-September, “We all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to ensure that the Voice succeeds. To combat the misinformation and disinformation.”

On the official campaign side, instead of relying solely on facts, the ‘No’ campaign against the Voice has instructed volunteers to use fear and doubt rather than facts to trump arguments used by the ‘Yes’ camp, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald.

On facts, the ‘No’ campaign’s official statement in the Australian Electoral Commission’s pamphlet to Australian households was found by The Guardian to contain multiple instances of misinformation, inaccuracy and disputed claims.

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