Social media is turning Australia into a political Wild West for this month's election.
Fake news and loose or exaggerated claims targeting issues that voters are concerned about are appearing on Facebook and other sites.
The ABC reports that Chinese-Australians were the focus of a scare campaign, with origins unknown, about refugee quotas. The material on social media app WeChat claimed that more than a million refugees could come to Australia over the next decade if Labor wins on May 18.
A Guardian Australia project is tracking attack ads on Facebook. Themes of increased costs and taxes under Labor and cuts under the Coalition abound. It says: "Both parties appear to have been making use of Facebook's ability to target ads to incredibly specific interest areas, demographics and locations."
It adds: "Paid Facebook advertisements are notoriously difficult to track down [and we] detected many without the proper authorisation."
Traditional means of dishing dirt are still in play. Police in Sydney investigated offensive posters of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and a smear email about Wentworth MP Dr Kerryn Phelps. Posters for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg were defaced with Nazi symbols.
But social media takes attempts to influence elections and sabotage opponents to a new level around the world.
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In the US, presidential primary candidate Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg had to deal with a nasty fake smear last week alleging a sexual assault, which was retracted. AP noted that: "The incident may offer a glimpse into disinformation tactics, powered by fake social media accounts and partisan news sites, that could become a staple of the 2020 campaign."
In Australia, several candidates from both major parties have been tripped up over sexist, anti-Muslim, anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks on social media going back years. Social media is a gold mine for rival researchers. Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested that his Liberal Party needed to step up its vetting processes to take account of online posts.
Anyone with an online record will find that it can be used against them — with people looking from their present to their past. That hindsight is very different from someone gradually creating their social history as they grow up. What about young people now chasing a political career, whose views may have changed from when they spilled their innermost thoughts into blogs or Facebook posts?
It has taken a while for people to work out how social media should be used.
For the social networks, assessing what's acceptable and how to deal with it is a thorny problem governments are now taking great interest in. Facebook said on Friday that it has banned several US far-right and anti-Semitic figures for being "dangerous". It's a sign that Facebook is trying to enforce its hate-speech policies now it is under great pressure to do so with incidents of internet-linked extreme violence on the rise.