With Australia’s Federal election being held on Saturday 18 May, Australians need to be hyperaware of social networks to avoid consuming misinformation and falling victim to scams related to the election. Proofpoint’s research shows that cybercriminals are working relentlessly to exploit digital communication channels regardless of the country, motivation or level of sophistication, to disrupt the democratic process.
The Australian Electoral Commission has announced a mass social media campaign in 29 languages across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to combat fake news. While the campaign aims to warn voters of deliberately misleading posts or fake news articles, there are several ways that you can also proactively be cybersafe on social media.
Here are five recommendations that voters can immediately implement to protect themselves on social media ahead of the federal election:
1. Avoid “fake news” by looking for a source: Social media fraudsters use controversial political content as a way of enraging voters and spreading misinformation. This is executed by sowing discord and posting unusual messages to influence public perception. For example, if someone posts a quote attributing to a politician but doesn’t provide a verified link to the source, don’t assume it is genuine.
Similarly, if someone or something appears to have a call for action, take a step back and assess the situation before clicking. As news travels fast online, it is imperative that Australians absorb social content with caution.
2. Spot and block bots: Be cautious of Facebook and Twitter accounts with suspicious activity or especially aggressive behaviour. A few things to look for are:
• recently created accounts;
• no profile picture;
• few posts;
• a low number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers; and
• disproportionally high following-to-follower ratio.
If you suspect a Facebook user is a bot, visit his/her profile page and click on the three grey dots on the right of the “message” button to report the profile. For Twitter, you can report the account by clicking on the sprocket on their profile page.
3. Use Facebook’s “info and ads” tool to determine motivation: If you see a political ad on Facebook, click on the page that posted it. Once you are on the page, click on the “info and ads” button on the left column. This feature will provide insight into whether the page has run ads related to politics or issues of national importance.
4. Do not click on links via Facebook Messenger or Twitter Direct Message (DM): Unsolicited links via Facebook Messenger or Twitter DMs may contain malware or direct you to credential phishing websites, that will attempt to steal your passwords or financial information. These messages can come in the form of auto-replies after following an account on Twitter or can even come from one of your trusted friends/followers who have been hacked, or otherwise have bad intentions.
To reduce your exposure on Facebook Messenger, enable secure browsing by clicking on account settings, followed by security, and then secure browsing. On Twitter DMs, disable options for “precise location” and “receive messages from anyone”, or alternatively click on the privacy and safety feature to make the changes for you and protect your longitude/latitude from exposure.
5. Activate the quality filter on Twitter: Twitter’s quality filter will help you locate the quality among the noise in the lead up to the federal election. Once you are on your profile page, click on the “setting and privacy” option, followed by “notifications”, and then “quality filter”. There are also “advanced filters” that allows you to set up notifications, so you are alerted when a trusted source tweets.
We also recommend you turn on the following filters for muting notifications from people:
• with a new account
• who have a default profile photo
• who haven’t confirmed their email
Digital information has become a global currency and cybercriminals are actively working to exploit it to influence public perception and interfere with nations’ political landscapes. Social media has become a powerful tool within our society today, and the above measures can help voters to avoid misinformation and election-related scams.