Exclusive: Facebook removes illegal pro-Adani social media advertising

The Australian Electoral Commission has requested social media giants Facebook and Twitter take down unauthorised political advertising from an anti-Labor and pro-Adani group, SBS News can reveal.

A paid Twitter advertisement from Unemployed in QLD.

A paid Twitter advertisement from Unemployed in QLD.

With the federal election campaign in full swing, a range of political actors, from the major parties to third-party lobby groups like GetUp and Advance Australia, are battling it out online for clicks, likes and shares.

But laws, passed last year requiring political social media ads to disclose who is paying for the advertisement, are being flaunted by some.

SBS News can reveal the Australian Election Commission has requested Facebook and Twitter take down political advertising from a group called ‘Unemployed in QLD’ after SBS News made the commission aware of the unauthorised advertising.

A paid Twitter advertisement from Unemployed in QLD.
A paid Twitter advertisement from Unemployed in QLD.

Advertisements seen by SBS News accused Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek of not caring about unemployment in the state due to her criticism of Adani.

The election has highlighted the murky waters around social media advertising.

Andrew Hughes from the Australian National University explained that when someone pays someone else for the creation or promotion of social-media content it goes from simply ‘user-generated content’ which doesn’t require disclosure, to ‘advertising’ which does.

The anonymous ‘Unemployed in QLD’ Facebook page has 1800 followers and the corresponding Twitter account has 1600 followers.

Both of Unemployed in QLD’s social media accounts regularly post anti-Labor party posts and are supportive of the controversial Adani coal mine.

“Bill Shorten has unveiled an energy policy that will have a devastating effect on regional communities who rely on industries like agriculture and mining to make a living, not to mention losing the economy billions. Australian Labor Party are turning into the crazy Australian Greens,” one Facebook post read.

The Australian Electoral Commission told SBS News that Facebook had blocked and taken down paid ads from the page after being alerted to them.

The commission said it was still awaiting a response from Twitter, which had also been alerted to the illegal ads.

“The AEC is working closely with the social media companies. This year we have asked Facebook to remove unauthorised electoral advertising, images and videos on four Facebook pages,” the Commission said.

The Unemployed in QLD Facebook page.
The Unemployed in QLD Facebook page. Source: Social media.

Mr Hughes said there were “grey areas” in the law regarding what was considered political advertising, which needed to be cleaned up.

“Some organisations are testing that grey area, because at the moment no one is really pulling them up on it,” he said.

“What Cambridge Analytica did was show people the sophistication of political advertising in the digital age, and we are seeing that in Australia too,” Mr Hughes said.

SBS News sent questions to the Unemployed in QLD Facebook page asking who was paying for their series of ads. The message was ‘seen’ but not responded to.

Dr Stephen Dann from the Australian National University said the Electoral Commission’s monitoring of political advertising authorisation was one of the most important jobs of the commission.

“Identification is a form of accountability and ownership. Wherever ‘Written and Authorised by’ appears, it automatically puts somebody on the hook,” he told SBS News.

Mr Hughes said a larger overhaul of regulations of social media political advertising was needed and suggested banning third-party groups from advertising on social media may be an effective strategy.

“Those organisations are not putting forward any candidates, so in a way they are using weakness in the electoral law to try and influence the outcome of the election, without being responsible or accountable for their actions,” he said.

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4 min read
Published 23 April 2019 at 1:54pm
By Jarni Blakkarly