Election 2019

Social media rules may lead to decline in free speech

Dr Ian Cook has hesitations about government regulation of social media.
Source: RTRFM.

Regulating social media will have a great impact on free speech, experts warn.

Senior lecturer of Australian politics and policy at Murdoch University Ian Cook said he was fearful of social media regulation to decrease the spread of fake news.

“Regulation always has that problem of the potential to impede free speech and open conversation,” he said.

“There’s certainly issues with the creation of bots and people’s manipulation of social media.”

Dr Cook insisted users had a responsibility in their own regulation.

“Part of it has to be about the users becoming more sophisticated and more aware,” he said.

“We’re coming to be a bit clearer about what can happen on social media.”

Social media played an important role in the federal election, particularly among younger voters who have access to it daily.

Dr Cook said targeting people through social media was a clever concept.

“There’s a greater recognition of the power of social media and parties are seeing it as a powerful opportunity to get their word out at a relatively low cost,” he said.

“People are looking to quite specific demographics that they can speak through particular technologies.

“The use of analytics to target particular demographics is something we’re seeing more of and will see more of.”

According to the Australian Electoral Commission, about 4.4 million Australians aged between 18-35 enrolled to vote for the election.

While social media was important for politicians, Dr Cook said some minor parties couldn’t take full advantage of it.

“The problem with the minor parties is they may not have the resources,” he said.

“They can’t exploit social media quite to the extent that which major parties can.”

Independent candidate Louise Stewart regularly updated her social media followers with appearances in the community and by linking her views on important election topics like climate change.

Ms Stewart’s spokeswoman Louise Cooper Smyth said it was important to use hashtags and Facebook ads to connect with young people.

“The biggest thing is targeting your audience so that they engage and connect with you,” she said.

Ms Smyth said short videos were the current trend in social media, with videos about 30 seconds long ideal.

Other politicians can reach more people, giving them an advantage over minor parties.

United Australia Party leader Clive Palmer used social media by posting memes, some of which targeted opposing candidates.