Australia's peak national library bodies want to see the federal government adopt a policy and strategy for combating misinformation and disinformation among individuals of all ages.
The Australian Libraries and Information Association (ALIA), National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA) and National Archives of Australia all spoke of the looming threat of misinformation and information warfare the country was facing at a nationhood committee hearing on Friday morning.
ALIA chief executive Sue McKerracher said access to the internet was crucial for the nation but so was a strategy to ensure Australians of all ages were able to read and interpret that information.
"What we see is that people are being fooled by fake news, they're being sucked in by misinformation and what we really need is an education program in Australia, not only for young people because there is something happening in that space, but also for adults to make sure that we are actually addressing those issues," Ms McKerracher said.
"I'd like to see a recommendation that the federal government work with the Australian Media Literacy Alliance to develop a national policy strategy, a framework and action - a call to action - for media literacy."
NSLA chairwoman Marie-Louise Ayres, who is also the National Library's director-general, said she too shared these concerns.
National Archives director-general David Fricker added that his agency, which collects and stores a number of critical government records, played an important role in stamping out misinformation by holding onto records that might otherwise be destroyed.
"Without authentic primary source records, the Australian democracy would be poisoned by misinformation or, indeed, information warfare," Mr Fricker said.
"Only the National Archives ... actually stops people, government officials, from destroying records and without that role, many records would be destroyed before they ever saw the light of day."
[A debate about] whether the Bureau of Meteorology, you know, can be trusted or not, is running at the moment. And I think, I think there is a role for Parliament and a role for government to actually be a bit more supportive of institutions.- National Archives director-general David Fricker
Misinformation and disinformation - the sharing of false information, knowingly or not - has been on the rise in recent years amid decaying trust in media and public institutions.
With the outbreak of a global pandemic, a number of baseless and unfounded conspiracies and untested health treatments have spread rapidly through social media.
Within Australia's own government, Liberal National Party backbenchers Craig Kelly and George Christensen have used their social media presences to further spread unproven claims of alternative COVID-19 treatments lacking any medical evidence.
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet to publicly comment the backbenchers' comments, and Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously refused to comment on Mr Kelly and Mr Christensen's claims, saying they were exercising their "democratic freedoms".
Mr Kelly has also shared a number social media posts critical of the Bureau of Meteorology's research and has doubted the link between climate change and Australia's increasing number of extreme weather events.
Mr Fricker said those in Parliament could work to support government institutions and experts in order to ensure trust in facts wasn't being eroded.
"I think there is a bit more that can be done about respect for institutions as well. I do think institutions are politicised sometimes in the heat of the debate," Mr Fricker said.
"[A debate about] whether the Bureau of Meteorology, you know, can be trusted or not, is running at the moment. And I think, I think there is a role for Parliament and a role for government to actually be a bit more supportive of institutions."
Liberal senator and committee chairwoman Amanda Stoker pushed back on Mr Fricker's assertion, stating uncritical acceptance of experts in government institutions wasn't the solution either.
"There's something compelling about the alternate argument that says we can't have uncritical acceptance of everything that comes from experts in a government department, simply because that's the title they hold," Senator Stoker said.
"There's a balancing exercise."
Senator Stoker asked Ms McKerracher what sort of approach would be needed to tackle misinformation if it were to be adopted as a policy.
There were already a number of literacy and educational programs the libraries had in place, such as the Be Connected and Tech Savvy Seniors programs, Ms McKerracher said, but what was missing was a co-ordinated, federal approach.
"That's not to say [those organisations and projects are] not all doing a great job, because they are, but it does fragment our approach," Ms McKerracher said.
"What we're looking for is a national kind of guidance for this that then can be divided up between states and territories, but it has that linked, connected ... not people duplicating, overlapping, arguing about the right way to do it.
"A real national approach to this."
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