UWU attracts attention from Australian Electoral Commission for TikTok campaign

UWU attracts attention from Australian Electoral Commission for TikTok campaign

by Freya Lucas

April 12, 2022

The ABC has conducted an investigation into union-linked TikTok accounts which may be in breach of electoral transparency rules around political messaging, naming popular early childhood education and care (ECEC) focused union United Workers Union (UWU) in its findings.

 

UWU was one of several popular union-linked accounts which the ABC investigated for its piece, ultimately finding that three union accounts had failed to publish mandatory authorisations as required by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). 

 

Under Australian law unions are required to provide full authorisations on any material which could sway the way that people vote. The AEC does not require all unions to put authorisations on their political videos, the ABC notes, but all material with “the dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote” is required to have one. 

 

While Facebook and Instagram had the warnings, the UWU failed to add this warning to its TikTok account @GenUnited, only adding a full authorisation on its bio after being contacted by the ABC.

 

@GenUnited launched earlier this year and has since gone on to accumulate 15,000 followers and more than 500,000 likes. In a statement made to the ABC in relation to the issue UWU said the bio change was “due to general page updates which we undertake from time to time”. 

 

The AEC, however, said any video communication of electoral matters should include both an audio and visual authorisation at the end of the post, even if the social media account has an authorisation in its bio. 

 

While disclosure statements are typically seen at the end of advertisements or in newspaper ads, providing transparency about political messaging, TikTok is “a grey area”, where legislation may not have kept up with the reality of the fast moving world of social media.

 

Influencers received payments from UWU to create political content

 

While TikTok’s terms and conditions prohibit creators from receiving payments from third parties to post political content, Melbourne-based TikTok creator Calum Newton told the ABC he was one of six creatives who were asked to produce content for the @GenUnited account. 

 

He said he was approached by UWU after a video of his music remixes about Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie went viral. 

 

“A lot of my content was already left-leaning, I was promoting Labor — purely for the fact that I just enjoyed making that sort of content,” he told the ABC.  

 

Mr Newton made several videos that were shared on the UWU account, but also re-posted some of them on his own page — something he said the union did not ask him to do.

 

Mr Newton said he was not aware that posting paid political content on his personal account was banned under TikTok’s ad policy and has since deleted the videos.

 

The Union did not respond to ABC’s direct questions about the payments but subsequently removed Mr Newton’s videos from the UWU account.

 

Lack of transparency could mean unfair influence, academic says

 

Andrew Hughes, a lecturer at the Australian National University said that a failure to be transparent could impact the way in which political messages are received. 

 

“The moment you identify who you are, the effectiveness can fall away rapidly, which is why they try to get away with it,” Dr Hughes told the ABC.

 

Failing to identify the source of a message, he continued, could confuse young people who may not realise the political messaging behind what they are watching.

 

Influencers, he said, can be a powerful cohort with strong persuasive powers, meaning there needs to be extra focus on clarity of intention, and that the lack of transparency about paying influencers to create political content was concerning.

 

To access the original coverage of this story please see here

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