Meta to fact-check Indigenous Voice referendum with new funding amid free speech concerns

Meta, the owner of Facebook and other platforms, has announced a funding increase to tackle what it views as 'misinformation' ahead of the Indigenous Voice referendum in Australia.

Meta to fact-check Indigenous Voice referendum with new funding amid free speech concerns
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Meta has announced it will provide additional funding to combat what it perceives as 'misinformation' during the upcoming referendum on the introduction of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in Australia.
However the move by the parent company of popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter clone Threads, has raised concerns about the potential impact on free speech surrounding the debate.

The company's decision comes in the wake of criticism it faced from left-wing activists over alleged misinformation during the 2016 United States presidential election.

In response, Meta says it has developed strategies to address controversial public events, and now plans to expand these measures for the forthcoming Australian referendum, scheduled later this year.

"We're committed to playing our part to safeguard the integrity of the referendum," stated Mia Garlick, Meta's public policy boss, in a blog post.

Nevertheless, the plan has sparked strong criticism on social media, with users arguing that conservative views have been subject to widespread censorship since Donald Trump's victory in 2016.

Many claim that government agencies and big tech giants are blurring the lines between free speech and restricted content on these platforms.

As part of its initiative, Meta will provide undisclosed financial support to Australian Associated Press, RMIT's FactLab, and Agence France-Presse to bolster their fact-checking programs, which claim to identify false articles.

Additionally, Meta will caution users against sharing links to these articles, limit the visibility of links from users who ignore the warnings, and introduce a disclaimer for readers.

RMIT FactLab, in particular, has faced criticism in Australia over claims it favours left-leaning political positions in its fact-checking activities, with claims conservative topics are being targeted as examples of misinformation.

Its 'debunks' webpage has already shifted to focus largely cover topics surrounding the Voice to Parliament.

While the plan resembles one proposed by the Australian Electoral Commission, Meta's involvement is noteworthy, as the company had largely shifted away from news content in Australia after being required to pay publishers for their material in 2021.

Meta has announced its intention to cease news services in Canada before similar laws take effect there in approximately six months.

Supporters of the Indigenous Voice have accused their opponents of spreading 'misinformation' about the proposed institution and have expressed concerns about the potentially harmful effects of the aggressive tone of the debate on the mental well-being of Indigenous people.

However, conservative pundits and politicians have highlighted the lack of information regarding how a successful constitutional change through the Voice to Parliament referendum will impact everyday Australians, underscoring the need for clarity within the existing government framework.

In addition to funding fact-checking programs, Meta will provide free advertising to UNICEF Australia to promote a media literacy campaign and to ReachOut, a mental health service.

The Australian Associated Press will also conduct a separate media literacy campaign, while RMIT will offer guidance to journalists from other outlets on how to address 'misinformation,' all of which will be funded by Meta.

The fact-checking efforts, however, will face limitations due to the nature of the referendum question, which primarily focuses on the principled issue of whether Australia should establish a national Indigenous consultative body, rather than providing detailed specifics.

"In the Voice to Parliament referendum, some narratives may not fit into a clear 'fact check' yet are still important in terms of educating the public safely and calmly," explained Anne Kruger from RMIT.

"This multimedia project will allow us to highlight themes, including via social media, and support democratic discussion."

Meta has also pledged to remove any 'influence operations' that target the referendum and provide 'safety training' to campaign groups.

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