Australia probe foreign influence efforts through social media platforms

On Thursday, Australia started an investigation into the potential usage of foreign influence using social media platforms such as WeChat, Facebook, and Twitter.

The development comes in the wake of heightened concerns in the country that China is seeking to cast its influence in Canberra’s affairs.

In the past, Russia had used social media to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A bipartisan parliamentary Senate select committee was created following the ruling coalition government backed the opposition Labor Party’s proposal.

“The rise of ‘fake news’ and misinformation campaigns present a very real and present danger to democracy not only in Australia, but across the globe,” said Labor lawmaker Penny Wong. “We must protect our democracy from malicious foreign actors.”

The committee will have to table its findings by May 2022 – a time when Australia is set to hold its next general elections.

In 2017, then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had introduced new laws which required the registering of lobbyists working for foreign countries; he had then directly named China for the creation of this law.

The legislation soured trade relations with China – Australia’s largest trading partner.

Earlier this year in September, according to media reports, Australian intelligence had concluded that China was responsible for a cyber-attack on its national parliament; as per reports, three of Australia’s largest political parties were targeted.

Last month, Australia’s counterintelligence agency had said, it was investigating whether China had tried to install an agent in federal parliament; Prime Minister Scott Morrison termed the development as “deeply disturbing”. The allegations were aired in Australian media.

Last month, Australia required higher educational facilities to declare their financial dealings with foreign universities.

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