Australian Lawmakers Recommend Potential WeChat Ban on Government Devices

A senate committee investigating how foreign powers use social media to interfere in Australia has recommended a swathe of rules and restrictions for social media platforms, including potentially banning Chinese messaging service WeChat on government devices.

Tuesday’s report contains 17 recommendations including new transparency rules enforceable by fines, expanding an existing TikTok ban on government devices to contractors and investigating a ban on WeChat on government devices.

Companies like TikTok and WeChat posed “unique national security risks” because their parent companies, ByteDance and Tencent, are headquartered in China and subject to its national security laws, committee chair Senator Paterson in a statement.

“Platforms like TikTok and WeChat that are subject to the control of authoritarian regimes illustrate the broader cyber security risk to sensitive government information,” he said in a statement.

The committee also recommended that Australia helps developing countries in the Indo-Pacific resist “malicious information operations” by authoritarian states.

Led by Liberal Party Senator James Paterson, the five-person committee on foreign interference through social media includes two members from the ruling Labor party, although the report’s recommendations are not binding.

The office of the Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While many recommendations singled out Chinese social media platforms, a set of 11 transparency rules would require all large social media platforms to label state affiliated media accounts, and disclose when governments direct content moderation and actions against accounts of elected officials.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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