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Australia: Google doing ‘everything in its power' to stop United Australia Party spreading misinformation

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Google Australia claims it is doing all it can to stop Clive Palmer's United Australia Party from spreading misinformation on its platforms, despite accepting more than $100,000 dollars for political ads that it ultimately removed for breaching its advertising policies.

The UAP has spent almost $5 million on advertising on YouTube - owned by Google - since September, with Google's own transparency report showing it had removed four of the party's 57 video ads after they had run on the platform for between four and eleven days, collectively notching up millions of views in that time.

At a federal parliamentary inquiry into online safety, Labor MP Tim Watts questioned whether Google's policies were failing if Mr Palmer's UAP could promote misinformation with advertising funding.

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"We certainly are doing everything in our power to stop him - and every other person who might propagate misinformation relating to COVID or other [misinformation] - on our platforms. We do not seek to profit from that information in our ad policies and our enforcement is in line with that," Google Australia executive Lucinda Longcroft said.

Asked by Mr Watts what action the platform was taking to stop a repeat of the situation, Ms Longcroft said the company was increasing the efficacy of its artificial intelligence systems, saying: "we are rectifying those mistakes and taking all available action" to combat misinformation.

She defended the company's policy of not publishing transparent information about the details of any strikes issued against UAP or former Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who defected to the UAP last year, saying the vast majority of people who received warnings did not mean harm and were given the opportunity to correct their work.

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Mr Palmer, who is unvaccinated, announced on Wednesday he would lead the party's Senate ticket in Queensland, vowing to run the most expensive political campaign in Australian history at the next federal election, exceeding the $80 million it spent in 2019. Mr Kelly is seeking re-election in his seat of Hughes.

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UAP has spent almost $4.9 million on ads on YouTube, accounting for more than 90 per cent of all political advertising on the platform in Australia, with the Australia Labor Party a distant second having spent just $90,450. UAP forked out more than $100,000 each on three of the four since-pulled ads. Google's transparency report does not state which specific policies the ads breached, and it is unclear what the ads claimed.

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The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have run a number of political ads from the UAP, but publisher Nine Entertainment Co, has declined to run ads that contravene health advice or ATAGI guidance on vaccines.

In October, Therapeutic Goods Administration boss Professor John Skerritt wrote to YouTube and Facebook with a complaint about a United Australia Party ad that included incomplete extracts of a TGA adverse event report on COVID-19, saying it painted a "seriously misleading" picture of vaccine safety and requesting the platforms remove it. Mr Watts also wrote to Google Australia last year flagging a number of videos by Mr Kelly and UAP, and received a response from the company saying it had removed a number of videos featuring Mr Kelly, including ones relating to unproven COVID treatments hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

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Mr Kelly, who is a member of the parliamentary inquiry and has campaigned against many public health measures during the pandemic, used his position on the committee to question whether YouTube was "causing harm" by denying people access to information recommending the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

"No Mr Kelly," Ms Longcroft said, adding "our policies are devised in close consultation ... with experts in different fields in which they are applied."

Mr Kelly posed similar questions to executives from Meta, formerly Facebook, which last year permanently banned him from their platform for breaching its misinformation policies, as well as TikTok executives.

"We don't allow people to make definitive claims about alternative treatments or cures, so that can includes claims that hydroxychloroquine is able to cure COVID," Meta's head of public policy in Australia Josh Machin said.

Julie de Bailliencourt, TikTok's head of product policy, said the platform's governing community guidelines were regularly updated based on expert advice.

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