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  • There is strong and increasing evidence that foreign actors are actively co-ordinating social media interference operations in Australia.
  • The Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media made 17 recommendations to better regulate the transparency of social media platforms.
  • Heightened risks arise from social media platforms linked to authoritarian governments, with these platforms requiring greater security to ensure Australian data and security are protected.

The Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media (‘Committee’) released its final report (‘Final Report’) earlier this month, concluding that foreign interference is now Australia’s principal national security threat.

The Committee’s terms of reference were broadly to consider the risks posed to Australian democracy and values by foreign interference through social media, and how to mitigate any identified harms.

The Final Report follows significant controversy surrounding the collection of data by TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance. The Final Report was informed by submissions and evidence provided to the Committee, and the recommendations could (if implemented) result in significant transparency obligations being imposed on social media platforms.

The inquiry

Over the past two decades, social media has solidified itself as an integral part of everyday life; it is used to post updates about people’s lives, connect with friends and family, provide people with news and information, and promote causes individuals are passionate about. As of 2022, it was estimated that approximately 82.7 per cent of the Australian population had active social media accounts.

Although there are undoubtedly positives from the widespread usage of social media, there are also significant concerns. One example is the growing evidence that social media platforms are being used by State, and non-state, foreign actors to conduct interference operations – impeding democracy and undermining human rights.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (‘Commission’) has actively promoted the importance of ensuring that human rights are put at the heart of all technology. In particular, the Commission made a submission to the Committee highlighting the importance of ensuring that social media does not become a tool for foreign interference.

However, before discussing the Committee’s findings, it is important to understand how social media is being used to conduct foreign interference operations.

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