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Home Affairs Sends 4,700 Social Media Posts for Inquiry on COVID-19 Misinformation

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A significant number of social media posts were removed following referrals by the Australia’s Home Affairs Department.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Department of Home Affairs referred numerous social media posts for review.

This information came to light among 2,000 submissions made to the federal government’s COVID-19 Response Inquiry.

Out of over 4,700 social media posts referred to the digital industry, more than 3,000 were taken down.

“During the pandemic, the department monitored social media content for harmful misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines and referred content to digital industry for review, based on criteria and advice from [the Health Department],” Home Affairs said in a section titled COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation (pdf).

“Between 16 March 2020 and 19 May 2023, 4,726 social media posts were referred to digital industry for review against their content policies and terms of service, of these, 3,098 were actioned by the relevant social media company with content removed or its distribution reduced.”

The department highlighted that the Australian government allocated $62.8 million (US$40.76 million) over five years to “strengthen Australia’s social cohesion and community resilience” during the COVID-19 recovery period in the 2020 and 2021 budgets.

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This funding also included $37.3 million over four years to promote Australian values, identity, and social cohesion, and to counter false information.

“The contract supporting the COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation referrals has lapsed and was not renewed as of June 30, 2023, and the Department no longer performs this function,” Home Affairs stated.

Home Affairs commended Australia’s border controls for helping mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by delaying the spread of the virus.

The Department mentioned that there were 14 health-related decisions made regarding international travel during the COVID-19 crisis.

All Levels of Government Should Combat ‘Misinformation’: SA

South Australian authorities urged all levels of government to collaborate in combating misinformation, recognizing the significant influence of social media in the future.

The government highlighted the challenges faced in addressing misinformation and disinformation due to the prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All levels of government should also work together to jointly combat the spread of misinformation which became prevalent during the pandemic, particularly given the reach and pervasiveness of social media, and to ensure that government websites and other key communication channels provide timely, up to date information to mitigate public confusion and concern,” the state government said (pdf).

“Building community trust through clear messaging delivered with consistency and supported by the appropriate expertise and evidence was an important element of the response.”

The federal Australian COVID-19 inquiry is led by Robyn Kruk and includes panel members Catherine Burnett and Dr. Angela Jackson.

Submissions have been received from various federal departments, as well as corporations, political parties, advocacy groups, pharmaceutical companies, and universities.

“We have been overwhelmed by the openness and willingness of the more than 2,000 people and organisations who have taken the time to share their insights and experiences,” the panel shared.

“There was a common theme in the submissions of wanting to capture the lessons learned, before they were lost to the passage of time. Four years on since the start of the pandemic, as a panel, we share that sense of importance and urgency to better prepare for a future event.”

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