Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers has unleashed over “tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists” online spreading misinformation over the Voice referendum and revealed some social media giants are failing to take action over threats against staff.
At a briefing outlining the build up to voting day on October 14, the veteran election czar said while the number of people engaging in the behaviour was “tiny”, some of the rhetoric was concerning.
“And without wishing to blow this up into a big event and take on the internet, some of the stuff we’ve seen is tinfoil hat wearing, bonkers, mad conspiracies,” he said.
Mr Rogers singled out claims the AEC was using US-style voting machines which it did not use or was going to “erase” votes.
“We don’t use voting machines,” he said.
Mr Rogers said some of the threats online against staff were “a disgrace”.
“We’ve seen higher levels of abuse, I would use the term vitriol, online,” he said.
“This is the first social media referendum in Australia‘s history.”
He said there were ongoing negotiations with social media to take down misinformation promptly but it wasn’t always successful.
The AEC revealed that total enrolment for the referendum is at 17,676,347 people or 97.7 per cent of eligible Australians.
Youth enrolment stands at 91.4 per cent and Indigenous Australians is at 94.1 per cent.
The AEC is also working with emergency management authorities over contingency arrangements in the event of bushfires.
“We will be going the extra mile to ensure that all Australians have access to voting,” Mr Rogers said.
Mr Rogers has previously raised concerns that the tone of some of the online commentary was “aggressive”.
“It worries me greatly,” Mr Rogers said.
“We’re adapting our own social media footprint and the way in which we engage with individuals.
“There’s no point going down a rabbit hole when you know that someone is deliberately trying to take you down.”
Mr Rogers said he welcomed the recent federal court decision on the issue of “ticks and crosses”.
Controversy erupted in August when Mr Rogers confirmed the AEC would follow decades of precedent and count ticks as yes votes but crosses as informal.
Justice Steven Rares ruled in favour of the AEC this week explaining that cross is used “both as a means of selecting one of two or more choices and as indicating a negative choice” and is therefore “inherently ambiguous”.
“Unlike a cross, which has more than one signification, either approval or disapproval … the tick approves or selects the affirmative as the voter’s answer,” he said.