RMIT: RMIT FactLab to use world-leading digital analysis to tackle election misinformation

Cutting edge disinformation detection and tracking software will be used by RMIT FactLab to investigate and debunk misinformation and disinformation on social media during the federal election campaign.

In a groundbreaking collaboration between the Judith Nielsen Institute for Journalism and Ideas (JNI) and RMIT FactLab, advanced digital analysis techniques pioneered by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) will be used to track, trace and debunk disinformation campaigns targeting voters.

As part of the collaboration, known as the Mosaic Project, RMIT FactLab will publish debunked disinformation and misinformation for the benefit of voters and newsrooms around the country.

RMIT FactLab will use state-of-the-art data analytics and open source intelligence techniques pioneered by ISD — a London-based think tank dedicated to tackling and researching disinformation and extremism online — to monitor Australian MPs and other political actors from Australia and overseas, extremist groups, and others to identify the viral spread of online disinformation and manipulation that has the potential to disrupt the election in ‘real time’.

Once a disinformation campaign or item is identified, understood to be gaining traction on social media, and debunked, RMIT FactLab will publish the results in the CheckMate newsletter (formerly CoronaCheck), as well as to open-sourced digital platforms.

RMIT FactLab is a research hub at RMIT University dedicated to debunking misinformation online and developing critical awareness about its origins and spread. The hub also conducts original research into the digital news ecosystem.

JNI offers educational programs and grants to equip journalists with the resources, skills, and knowledge to produce quality journalism.
JNI’s Executive Director, Mark Ryan said the Mosaic Project would assist Australian newsrooms to identify and report on election disinformation.

“The sheer volume of information available to voters online means journalists with limited resources and time have no hope of catching every bad actor’s Tweet, Facebook comment or Reddit post,” he said.
“A significant aim of this project is to focus newsrooms on fast-spreading falsehoods to cut them down before they can influence the federal election outcome.

“It is designed to bring new skills and technology and additional resources to newsrooms stretched covering the biggest news event of 2022,” he said.

RMIT FactLab Director Russell Skelton said that given record numbers of Australians now receive their news from social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, exposing false and misleading information during an election campaign was essential for a healthy democracy.

“We have seen the harm caused when misinformation spreads unchecked on social media. We saw it in the US storming of Congress by fanatical groups, and we saw it during the German elections,” he said.

“Exposing disinformation on social media is the new frontier in election coverage. Arming voters with the facts can lessen the impact of scare campaigns,” he said.

ISD’s Head of Digital Integrity, Jiore Craig, said the project will help tackle online threats to the democratic process in Australia.

“Misinformation, hate speech, and deception online put voters’ right to engage in a free and fair election at risk. It is critical for democracy in 2022 that voters are able to access robust and trustworthy information when informing their choice on election day,” he said.

RMIT FactLab’s participation in JNI’s Mosaic Project follows the announcement in March that it has partnered with Meta, the Facebook and Instagram parent company, to fight the spread of misinformation through independent, third-party fact-checking.

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