Last year we held a series of events to talk about the impact of mis-, dis- and malinformation and the impact on democracy, first at SXSW with former NSW Minister Victor Dominello and then with Luke Bacon, researcher and subject expert at Purpose.

We saw the influence of mis- and disinformation in the Voice referendum and in the 2023 NSW election, where the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC) identified the circulation of misinformation as a potential threat to democratic processes. The spread of misinformation and hate speech online has become a formidable challenge to the integrity of elections. Even in Australia where we have a strong tradition of fair and transparent electoral processes, the threat looms large.

In response to this growing concern, stakeholders ranging from government bodies to civil society organisations have been actively engaged in defending and enhancing democracy. Purpose conducted a research project aimed at monitoring and mitigating online threats to election integrity in Australia.

The findings of this research shed light on five key trends that underscore the complex nature of online activity during elections. From baseless claims of election fraud to escalating hate speech targeting candidates and minority groups, the report illustrates the multifaceted challenges faced by those striving to maintain the integrity of democratic processes.

One of the most alarming revelations from the research is the sophisticated manner in which misinformation and hate speech are disseminated across various online platforms. Actors involved in spreading false narratives exhibit a remarkable ability to organise themselves rapidly, utilising both mainstream social media platforms and private messaging channels to amplify their messages. Moreover, the role of the news media in amplifying misinformation cannot be overlooked, as stories continue to provide a platform for the propagation of false claims long after they have been debunked.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge the limitations of data in combating online threats to election integrity. The dynamic and ever-evolving nature of online activity means that our understanding is often incomplete, with much of the content being deleted before it can be detected. Therefore, while data analysis can provide valuable insights and inform interventions, it is not a panacea for the complex challenges posed by misinformation and hate speech.

Nevertheless, the research report by Purpose offers valuable insights that can guide further efforts to safeguard election integrity. By highlighting key trends and recommending targeted interventions, the report lays the groundwork for continued collaboration among stakeholders in addressing the pressing issue of online threats to democracy.

We think it’s critical to expose information transparently as a way to build trust in politically processes and strengthen democracy. Sharing data and information undoubtedly plays a crucial role in informing efforts to ensure the community is aware of how mis-, dis- and malinformation works.

Watch our webinar with Luke Bacon on this topic and the research.