If a political party was hoping to dig up dirt on a rival candidate, they might turn to someone like Allan Watt – a Sydney-based social media investigation specialist.
They would give him the target’s name or phone number, and Allan would run it through a suite of subscription-only forensics programs.
“They trawl through social media looking for search words,” he told Hack.
“Some of the forensic ones are only available to forensic people.”
“Other ones – you can just download them.”
This week, five candidates have been dumped by their party, or resigned, over racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, or otherwise offensive posts.
More than any other Australian election, the 2019 federal campaign has been shaped by leaked screenshots – the Liberals have lost three candidates, and Labor two.
This is probably a good thing for the country; it’s meant screening out candidates who have posted anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and other kinds of comments.
But it’s not going to last.
There’s a good chance next time around parties are going to be doing a much better job of screening candidates’ social media histories.
Here’s how to get this done.
1. Search yo’self
This Facebook search tool allows you to find every comment you’ve ever made, every photo you’ve ever been tagged in, and lots more.
2. Time for bulk deletion
3. Don’t forget your timeline
With this Firefox browser extension, Facebook Timeline Cleaner, you can delete or hide everything on your timeline, or delete or hide everything older than a certain number of days.
4. Now it’s time for twitter
This program, Tweet Deleter, allows you to filter through your tweets or look for a specific keyword that you’re interested in scrubbing.
You can then opt to delete selected tweets or delete all of them if you want to erase everything you’ve ever said on the platform and start all over again.
5. Ignore the above and hire a professional
The above programs are free to use, but if you want to do a more thorough job you can pay for someone to trawl your past.
“There are people out there who profess to be almost like cleansers,” Allan Watt told Hack.
Outside Australia, it’s legal to use some very powerful forensic programs.
“There’s a mobile phone one that if I lawfully had somebody’s mobile phone to copy in I can access all the social media accounts associated with that phone, and then I can extract the data from those accounts
“Without a search warrant or subpoena in Australia that’s against the law.”
6. Delete everything and hope there’s no screenshots
Jenna Price, a social media expert and lecturer in journalism at UTS, recommends taking the nuclear option: delete everything.
“If you’re thinking about going into politics, delete your Facebook account,” she told Hack.
“Get rid of it all and hope no-one has taken screenshots.”
She said that the candidate vetting process appeared to be run by middle-aged people who didn’t understand how a single post can scupper a campaign.
“Islamophobes from Tasmania – how did that escape notice?,” she said
Allan Watt warned that that deleting your own social media account won’t get rid of a post that someone else has shared.
The real solution, of course, is simply to not be racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-Immigrant, or anything similar.
“That’d be my number one tip,” Jenna Price said.
“The core problem for us is that our political parties are not attracting the right kind of people.
“This has really been a blessing in disguise.”