A referendum, like a federal election, is essentially a contest of ideas. While the vast majority of referendum campaigning will simply encourage voters to vote one way or the other, you may encounter material could be misleading. We all have a role to play when it comes to staying informed about the referendum.
The most important thing to remember is to Stop and Consider before you act on something you see online.
A lot of information is designed to make the reader feel an emotional reaction like shock, excitement or anger. These are normal things to feel, but they can make it easier to act without thinking – this can be something as simple as sharing a post on social media that might not be accurate.
When you encounter communication about the referendum, it can help think through the following steps:
- Reliable: Is the information from a reliable source?
- Current: When was it published?
- Safe: Could it be a scam?
If you're not sure how to answer any of the above questions, you can always get in touch with the original author – to find out who that is, check for an authorisation message.
If you encounter information about the process of voting at a referendum and want to make sure it's accurate, you can contact the AEC.
While the AEC is not and cannot be the arbiter of whether every piece of communication is or is not disinformation, we have prepared a guide to common tactics used by those seeking to spread disinformation. You can read it here.
If you're spending money to campaign at the referendum, the most important thing is to ensure you're following the legal requirements around authorising the communication you send. You can find more information about authorisation requirements.
Campaigners also have a legal requirement to not mislead or deceive about the act of casting a vote at a referendum. This is a serious issue that can lead to fines or prosecution. The AEC has more information about this requirement here.
The AEC's role
- Authorisation: The AEC is responsible for ensuring that referendum communication is authorised where authorisation is legally required. If you encounter referendum communication that you believe is not correctly authorised, you can make a complaint.
- Truth: In most cases, the AEC has no legal power to determine whether communication about the topic of the referendum is truthful, or to apply penalties for untruthful communication. It is the responsibility of every voter to critically evaluate any communication you receive.
- Misinformation and Disinformation: As the agency responsible for running the referendum, it is the AEC’s role to educate Australian voters about the process of participating in a referendum – that is to say, topics such as enrolment, voting, the counting of votes and the determination of a final result. The AEC plays an active role in debunking false information about the referendum process.
- Disinformation Register: The AEC maintains a Referendum Disinformation Register, which lists and debunks prominent pieces of disinformation around the referendum process. The purpose of the Disinformation Register is to provide a trusted resource for voters who may encounter disinformation about the referendum process.
- Social media: The AEC has an active presence on a number of social media platforms as part of our role in providing voter education to Australia. Our social media accounts are available to answer questions from voters and campaigners, and will on occasion debunk electoral or referendum disinformation in a firm but friendly way.