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    ‘Stolen’ federal election narratives saw TikTok asked by AEC to remove footage of vote counting – ABC News

    Australia’s election watchdog was forced to ask TikTok to remove footage of staff inside counting centres and polling places during the recent federal election, amid efforts by fringe groups and politicians to promote “stolen election” narratives.

    Key points:

    Correspondence with the popular video platform, obtained by the ABC via a document request, shows the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) contacted TikTok to remove multiple versions of a video that allegedly captured AEC employees without their knowledge, and accused the AEC of “rigging the election”.

    “Content that impinges on the safety and/or privacy of our permanent or temporary staff is of course of significant concern,” AEC spokesperson Evan Ekin-Smyth said.

    “We take these matters very seriously.”

    While the source of the videos was redacted, the ABC reported during the 2022 campaign that “freedom parties” and groups linked to Australia’s anti-lockdown movement were encouraging supporters to sign up as scrutineers to challenge vote counting.

    The effort was part of a push to undermine trust in the Australian election by borrowing from unproven allegations in the United States that the 2020 presidential election was compromised by voter fraud.

    Voting staff sort votes on floor

    A number of unproven claims were made about ballot tampering and rigged voting counts on social media throughout the election and even via images sent to a Sydney radio station, which were swiftly debunked by the AEC and fact checkers.

    The newly released correspondence shows the AEC requested companies like TikTok and YouTube remove or block election-related content it believed was unlawful or breached the platforms’  own standards.

    Concerns over safety during the election campaign

    The secret filming of AEC staff followed increased awareness of threats made against politicians during the pandemic.

    In the lead-up to the May vote, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) set up a task force to investigate security threats to parliamentarians and candidates.

    Operation Wilmot conducted 39 investigations into reports of electoral-related crime, according to the AFP, including security threats to parliamentarians and candidates using a “carriage service”.

    At least 14 matters are ongoing, and criminal charges were laid in two cases.

    On May 23, the AEC emailed TikTok with a video that “records one of our staff members without their awareness or consent inside of a counting centre”.

    A snap shot of an email from the AEC to TikTok referring a video for being filmed inside a polling place without permission.

    TikTok appears to have removed the video the same day for violating its community standards.

    In one clip seen by the ABC, which has been removed from TikTok and reposted to an alternative video platform, a woman films herself demanding to speak to scrutineers, and can then be seen walking into a counting centre where she argues with staff about the counting process.

    Scrutineers are appointed by political candidates to observe the counting of ballot papers and verify that proper election processes have been followed.

    YouTube was also approached by the AEC in May over a video that recorded a conversation with a Queensland police officer and a phone call with a Channel 7 journalist — both allegedly without consent.

    Although laws vary by state, it is generally illegal to record a conversation without the knowledge and consent of the other party.

    Referrals ‘a last resort’

    The AEC referred 77 pieces of content to social media companies during the election — 39 of which related to disinformation around electoral processes and 38 regarding other matters “that included electoral authorisation breaches, staff threats and privacy issues”.

    According to the AEC, the relevant online platform took action in 34 instances and some were removed by the user.

    “We have a variety of criteria for if/when content should be referred to an online platform for their consideration, and it is not undertaken lightly,” Mr Ekin-Smyth said.

    “There is freedom of political communication and people can of course discuss the electoral system.

    “Referrals are, in a way, a last resort taken once other avenues have not been successful — or for matters that are very time sensitive.”

    The documents reveal the AEC also asked for a TikTok account to be removed that attempted to impersonate the AEC, as well as several videos that promoted the wrong voter enrolment deadline and claimed dead people were enrolled to vote, among other misleading allegations.

    The AEC also lodged complaints about political content on YouTube that encouraged voters to support “‘freedom-friendly’ parties” but that lacked any authorisation, in breach of Australian electoral law.

    Even after the election, the video platform was asked to remove content that claimed the Australian federal election was “compromised by fraud”.

    Do you know more?

    Contact Ariel Bogle using ProtonMail on abogle@protonmail.com

    Not all content targeted by the AEC was removed by the social media companies.

    In at least one instance, YouTube told the regulator it had not found grounds to restrict a particular URL under its legal policies.

    Instead, it encouraged the AEC to contact the content creator directly.

    The nature of this content is unclear, as the document trail has been heavily redacted.

    No contact with Telegram

    The correspondence shows the AEC met multiple times with the major social media companies including Twitter, Facebook and even Microsoft’s LinkedIn in the lead-up to the federal election to prepare avenues for reporting problematic content.

    One app was missing from these conversations, however: Telegram, which was a key source of election-related disinformation during the campaign.

    The AEC had no contact with the company, which is notoriously adverse to content moderation, although a spokesperson said it did monitor the platform.

    Correspondence between Twitter, Facebook and the AEC during the election campaign has not yet been released.

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    This content was originally published here.

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