Police probe fake Instagram account posing as federal independent candidate Rob Oakeshott

Updated March 27, 2019 08:46:13

High-profile federal independent candidate Rob Oakeshott says his identity was stolen on Instagram in a bid to interfere with his election campaign.

Key points:

  • Independent candidate Rob Oakshott says a fake Instagram profile impersonated him and was a sign of a deceitful federal election campaign
  • The fake account sent direct Instagram messages to a woman who Oakshott knows, requesting a campaign donation of $25,000
  • The account has since been removed by Instagram and is being investigated by police

Screenshots of messages obtained by the ABC show the unknown user behind the fake profile attempted to solicit a political donation of $25,000 and flirt with a woman based in Mr Oakeshott’s New South Wales Mid North Coast electorate of Cowper.

The local woman, who knows Mr Oakeshott, raised the issue with the independent candidate shortly after the incident this week.

Police are now investigating the incident, but the former member for Lyne said he believed the scam was an early sign of a deceitful federal election campaign.

“It is a marker that it is going to be hotly contested. People are going to see weird stuff in social media, in conversations and gossip on the street — 99 per cent of it isn’t true,” Mr Oakeshott said.

“Politics does get dirty at times, we’re going to play it as clean as we can in that environment.

“We’d encourage people to be eyes-wide-open that tricks do get played.”

Mr Oakeshott said Instagram took down the fake profile yesterday — two days after the incident.

More online attacks possible before election: expert

According to Axel Bruns from the Digital Media Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, more attacks like this may occur as the federal election campaign gets underway.

Professor Bruns said the use of fake online profiles could contribute to a growing trend of weaponizing social media for political interference.

“It’s quite possible that if the fake profile is being promoted very actively it may become more visible than the real profile,” he said.

“There are very serious implications for how voters might regard a particular candidate, what they think that candidate might stand for, and perhaps their voting intention in the end as well.”

In this case, Detective Chief Inspector Kim Fehon from the Mid North Coast Police District, said the account had been taken down quickly before money had changed hands and further damage done.

“That is thankfully because one of the victims involved contacted Mr Oakeshott so that he could make a report of it to police,” she said.

What can be done?

Cyber security researcher, Nigel Phair, said the attack highlighted the need for everyone — from corporates, governments, political parties to the average social media user — to be more vigilant.

“You can’t just keep living off what’s good about online and not investing in controls to reduce the risks,” he said.

Professor Phair said police could do more to crackdown on cybercrime to better protect online communities.

“I don’t buy that it’s too hard to prosecute. That’s been a cop-out for police in all jurisdictions for too long that ‘it all seems too hard’,” he said.

“They need to understand that investigating crime in the online environment requires some slightly different tools and techniques.”

Detective Chief Inspector Fehon said it was not that simple.

“The problem is technology moves faster than legislation. It’s always law enforcement catching up with technology in order to prosecute for these matters,” she said.

“It is a difficult field to work in.”

For social media users, Professor Bruns said it was very hard for political candidates and others to fight off false accounts.

“It’s a bit of a whack-a-mole game … it’s just difficult to fully protect yourself against this because its so easy to set-up these accounts,” he said.

Professor Bruns said it could be made even harder for minor parties and independent candidates who do not have the capacity to constantly monitor social media platforms for malicious false accounts.

“What’s important for them [politicians and candidates], is to try and be authenticated by the platform,” he said.

“On Twitter that means getting the blue tick, on Facebook you can do something similar.

“That might help a little bit to signal to ordinary users that you are the real thing and anything else they may see about you is a copy or is an imitation or possibly a parody.”

Topics: social-media, federal-government, political-parties, federal-elections, port-macquarie-2444, coffs-harbour-2450, queensland-university-of-technology-4000, lismore-2480

First posted March 27, 2019 07:10:03

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