CGM Voices by author: Amy Blom

Blogs by Author: Amy Blom. [Show All]

Fake news and the COVID rumour mill

Fake news and the COVID rumour mill

By Amy Blom

Accessing and sharing accurate content has never been more important in Western Australia as we navigate our second lockdown, an upcoming vaccine rollout and the state election in March. However, the ability to spread rumours on social media as quickly as facts means we all need to be careful about what we read and share online.

Digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter have increasingly become the primary tool for government to get its message out to the public without relying on traditional media channels. As we saw this week, this can be extremely effective in times of crisis when important information must be communicated quickly to an entire state.

Regardless of where you were on Sunday, whether you were out and about or in front of a television you would have known almost immediately through social media that most of WA’s population was about to go into lockdown following the first case of community spread of COVID-19 in almost 10 months. Through social media we were able to find out if we had visited the same places as the infected hotel quarantine guard and exactly where we could be tested if there had been any chance of contact.

The flipside is that this week, social media also allowed frightening and baseless rumours to run rife through the community. There were stories that although no new cases had been recorded by the time Premier Mark McGowan gave his press conference on Monday, up to 21 new cases were about to be declared.

Those with the correct information were quick to act on the rumours. Mr McGowan took to social media on Monday night to dispel them and remind people to only share news and information from official or trusted sources. The West Australian’s editor, Anthony De Ceglie, used a front-page editorial to help set the record straight and to remind people that if they did not read it in a proper news publication, then the information was probably inaccurate.

Unfortunately, this week’s rumours about new coronavirus cases are not isolated examples of inaccurate information being shared on social media in Western Australia. Spend long enough online and you will find countless examples of misinformation, whether deliberate or unintentional, about the coronavirus and more. It can be easy to be sucked in by some of this misinformation, particularly when you see that it’s been shared by a contact of yours. When you share it, you’re contributing to its spread, whether you mean to or not.

The best way to avoid spreading the problem is to watch the daily briefings by the Premier, Health Minister, and Chief Health Officer, which are hosted on various platforms. If there is anything you missed or you need more information visit official government websites such as www.healthywa.wa.gov.au. Additionally, get your news from reputable organisations like The West Australian, WAToday, the ABC, and the major television and radio stations. Unlike social media platforms, traditional media organisations such as these are subject to regulations and codes of conduct, which makes them a more reliable source. Many of them may now be behind a paywall, but don’t let that put you off. A subscription is a small price to pay to be confident that your information is correct before you hit the share button.


Meet the new leader of the WA Opposition

Meet the new leader of the WA Opposition

By Amy Blom

Member for Dawesville Zak Kirkup will lead the WA Liberals to the next election in March 2021 after being elected party leader unopposed on Tuesday.

The 33-year-old is the youngest person to hold the position within the party, taking the title from Matt Birney, who was 35 when he became leader in 2001. He is the second-youngest Opposition leader in WA’s history, after Labor’s Thomas Bath, who took on the job in 1906 at the age of 31.

Mr Kirkup’s political aspirations have been clear since he was 17, when he handed then-prime minister John Howard a business card with the words ‘Zak R.F. Kirkup, Young Liberal, Future Prime Minister’ printed on it during a 2004 appearance at Midland Town Hall while Mr Kirkup was a student at Governor Stirling Senior High School.

During his maiden speech, Mr Kirkup said his interest in politics stemmed from early childhood when his mother, who was a member of Greenpeace, would sit at the kitchen table and talk about protesting nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, while his father would quiz him about prime ministers, premiers and treasurers.

Coming from a working-class background, Mr Kirkup became the first of his family to attend university. However, as he said in his maiden speech, it wasn’t for him, so he left to pursue a career in politics, volunteering in several positions before taking a position with the late senator Judith Adams.

He began working for the WA Liberal Party in 2006 and rose through the ranks to become the youngest ever Deputy State Director before serving as an advisor to Premier Colin Barnett.

Taking a break from politics in 2013 to work at BGC, Mr Kirkup was elected to the seat of Dawesville in the 2017 election, replacing retiring MP Kim Hames. Following his election, he used his maiden speech to highlight the need for Western Australia to diversify its economy beyond the agricultural and resources sectors, and for government to accommodate emerging industries.

Mr Kirkup used the same speech to reflect on the historical treatment of Indigenous West Australians, stating that it was “worth noting that we are standing in the very place that voted in favour of a series of oppressive and draconian pieces of legislation that sought to restrict and oppress the rights of all Aboriginal people” including members of his family. In 1904, his ancestor Thomas Kirkup was forbidden by the Geraldton magistrate to marry his fiancée because he did not have the consent of the Chief Protector of Aborigines. Mr Kirkup’s grandfather Brian, an Aboriginal man born in WA’s Midwest in 1941, was unable to own property or a business for much of his life. Mr Kirkup said the recognition of his family’s history would continue to remind him that the position of a Member of Parliament was to “forever to guard against the infringement of personal rights and freedoms”.

Within a year of being elected he had become the shadow minister for corrective services and in 2019 he was assigned shadow portfolios in health, mental health and Aboriginal affairs.

Upon Mr Kirkup’s first front bench appointment, then-opposition leader Mike Nahan described him as “energetic and hard-working”. Other colleagues have described Mr Kirkup’s time as an MP as “impressive” and talk about his future leadership potential began as early as last year when Mr Nahan announced his resignation as party leader.

In his first statements to reporters after being elected Opposition leader, Mr Kirkup said the WA Liberals would support the McGowan Government’s COVID-19 health measures and that the party would be guided by advice from the Chief Health Officer. Moving beyond the pandemic, Mr Kirkup said his other focuses would be keeping West Australians “safe in their jobs” as he promised a “smarter and safer today, and brighter and better tomorrow”.

Mr Kirkup’s election as Opposition leader came after Liza Harvey announced she would step down to give the party an opportunity to “reset” its election strategy.