Australian Lawmakers Highlight Social Media’s Threat to National Security

A parliamentary committee investigating foreign interference in Australia has found that Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat could present major security risks.

In April, Australia said it would ban TikTok on government devices because of security fears. 

Lawmakers in Australia have sounded the alarm about the nefarious rise of social media and its power to spread disinformation and undermine trust. 

The Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media said that foreign interference was Australia’s most pressing national security threat. The parliamentary inquiry in Canberra found that the increased use of social media, including Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat, could “corrupt our decision-making, political discourse and societal norms.”   

The report stated that “the Chinese government can require these social media companies to secretly cooperate with Chinese intelligence agencies.” 

Committee makes recommendations

The committee in Canberra has made 17 recommendations, including extending an April 2023 ban on TikTok on Australian government issued devices to include WeChat, with the threat of fines and nationwide bans if the apps breach transparency guidelines.   

Senator James Paterson is the head of the committee as well as Shadow Cyber Security Minister. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday that the apps were guilty of spreading disinformation.  

“It is absolutely rife and it is occurring on all social media platforms,” said Paterson. “It is absolutely critical that any social media platform operating in Australia of any scale is able to be subject to Australian laws and regulation, and the oversight of our regulatory agencies and our parliament.”   

The Canberra government said it was considering all the committee’s recommendations. A government spokesperson asserted that foreign governments have used social media to harass diaspora and spread disinformation.  

TikTok responds

In a statement, TikTok said that while it disagreed with the way it had been characterized by the parliamentary inquiry, it welcomed the committee’s decision to not recommend an outright ban.   

It added that TikTok remained “committed to continuing an open and transparent dialogue with all levels of Australian government.” 

There has been no comment, so far, from WeChat.   

Meta, which owns Facebook, had previously told the inquiry that it had removed more than 200 foreign interference operations since 2017.  The U.S. company has warned that the internet’s democratic principles were increasingly being challenged by “strong forces.” 

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