Fears of misinformation spreading through Facebook are fuelled by Australian threats and pre-election rules

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Facebook has threatened to block Australian users from sharing news stories.  Meanwhile, the platform also announced new rules on pre-election political advertisements, provoking mixed reactions.

The key takeaways:
  • Facebook announced new rules for political ads prior to the U.S. presidential election. Several sources met the announcement with heavy criticism.
  • Facebook users in Australia may be blocked from sharing local and international news stories on the platform. The move has prompted fears that fake news stories may become more prevalent.
  • Despite attempts to dispel inaccurate information, Facebook was found to refer users to untrustworthy news sites over 15% of the time.
What happened? 
  • Zuckerberg announced that the platform will ban all political ads submitted in the week prior to the presidential election.
  • He also announced that any posts indicating that COVID-19 can be caught when going out to vote will be removed. Any false or premature declarations of victory by either candidate would also be banned.
  • Meanwhile, a new ruling set by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) last month will require digital media platforms to pay publishers for news. In response, Facebook has threatened to block Australian users from sharing news stories.
The thorny side:

Facebook’s threats to ban news for Australian users, as well as their new election rulings, result in distrust of the platform.

What does it mean? Though both cases differ, both could damage their countries’ access to accurate information.

  • News content on Facebook made up a large part of Australian news consumption. This has led to rising fears of the spread of fake news.
  • Commenting on their decision in Australia, reps from Facebook say that “this is not our first choice – it is our last.” The law was cited as one that “defies logic” and “will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
  • Zuckerberg shared his fears of rising “civil unrest” due to misinformation. Despite the tougher guidelines, users who wish to will typically find a loophole.
The roll-up:
  • The ACCC has until the end of October to submit its final draft of laws. Given the current progress, it seems unlikely that any significant changes will be made to the legislation.
  • Facebook’s potential ban of news-sharing for its Australian users will affect the accuracy of the information on the platform.
  • Zuckerberg’s attempts to prevent foul-play by candidates and regular users for the upcoming election are steps in the right direction. Yet, there are always opportunities for more escalation.



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