Choice of the MP, who has been criticised for posting ‘misleading’ vaccine information online, raises other committee members’ eyebrows
The federal MP Craig Kelly – who has been permanently banned from Facebook and criticised for the online distribution of “seriously misleading” information about Covid-19 vaccines – has been appointed to a parliamentary committee looking into social media and online safety.
The appointment has raised eyebrows among other members of the committee after the former Liberal, turned Palmer United party MP, was banned from Facebook and Instagram in April this year over posts promoting hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and questioning the effectiveness of masks.
In September, the Therapeutic Goods Administration also issued a statement saying its lawyers had written to Kelly over text messages the party had sent to millions of Australians. The TGA alleged the party had breached copyright and demanded it stop distributing “incomplete extracts” of adverse event reports relating to Covid vaccines which the TGA believed could be “seriously misleading”.
Kelly has since called for the social media companies to be reined in, and argued Facebook’s move was in contempt of parliament and amounted to improper interference.
The then Speaker Tony Smith dismissed that claim, stating there was no evidence that the ban was targeted at Kelly in his capacity as a member of parliament.
Since Kelly joined the United Australia party, YouTube’s parent company Google has also faced pressure to remove the party’s account. Labor’s national secretary, Paul Erickson, wrote to Google in September raising concerns that the UAP was using its platform to undermine confidence in Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, citing videos in which Kelly questioned the safety of Covid vaccines and promoted ivermectin.
The party has spent close to $3m on ads on YouTube since August, far more than any other political party in Australia over the same period.
The parliamentary inquiry was announced by Scott Morrison this week as part of the government’s ongoing focus on large tech companies. The committee will be chaired by the Liberal MP Lucy Wicks, and report back in February, before the next federal election.
The terms of reference for the committee are broad. It will review “the range of online harms that may be faced by Australians on social media and other online platforms, including harmful content or harmful conduct”, what impact algorithms have, identity verification and age verification policies, online safety for children, and data collection.
The committee consists of eight members, with five from the government, and three from the opposition or crossbench.
On Thursday, Kelly along with the Labor MPs Tim Watts and Sharon Claydon were added to the committee in a motion in the House of Representatives by the assistant minister to the deputy prime minister, Kevin Hogan.
The crossbench ultimately decides which of its members are put up on committees, meaning it was not a decision of government members to appoint Kelly to the committee.
Guardian Australia has sought comment from Kelly.
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On Wednesday, Watts warned an inquiry being held over the summer in the shadow of a looming federal election campaign meant it was questionable how much the current parliament could achieve.
The shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, also warned that, while she was supportive of the inquiry, the government had been doing nothing in the meantime to address Covid-19 misinformation online.
“I supervise my children in their use of the internet. But what bothers me deeply is when I have my nine-year-old and four-year-old say to me: ‘Mummy, you go out and tell people to get vaccinated. Why are the people in these ads telling us not to?’ Nothing is being done to address the disinformation that is harmful during a pandemic.”