How an innocent Facebook post morphed into a rumour that helped fuel Labor’s Cashless Debit Card scare campaign | #socialmedia


When a New South Wales woman posted on Facebook last year about a conversation with a staffer at her local MP’s office, she had no idea what would happen next.

Her words would be twisted, shared and amplified, eventually winding up as fodder for a Labor Party scare campaign about a secret government plan to force pensioners onto a cashless debit card.

The author of that post can now be revealed as Mid North Coast carer Corrinne Boon and this the story of how her post became part of a textbook case of political misinformation.

It began in May last year when Ms Boon telephoned the office of her local member, the Nationals MP David Gillespie, about an unrelated electorate issue, and asked in passing about the Cashless Debit Card.

Introduced by the government on a trial basis in 2016, the Cashless Debit Card is a form of income management which restricts the way money is spent by welfare recipients. It has been rolled out across a small number of communities in remote and regional parts of the country.

The card quarantines between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payment, depending on the jurisdiction, and bans the purchase of certain items such as alcohol and gambling products.

The purpose of the program is to ensure welfare payments are spent in responsible ways and to reduce social harm. But critics say it’s an example of government overreach.

New South Wales woman Corrinne Boon said she had no idea her words had been used to fuel a scare campaign.(Supplied)

Ms Boon said the staffer who answered the call told her that the Cashless Debit Card was a good idea for pensioners.

“I said, ‘But why would you want aged pensioners or carers on it?’ And he said, ‘Well, with the aged pensioners … it’s much safer for them than carrying cash around’,” she told the ABC.

“And I said, ‘What?’ I said that it is so restrictive. It is a terrible card.”

That afternoon she posted about the “heated discussion” in an anti-cashless debit card Facebook group with over 3,000 members.

Corrinne Boon's Facebook post about her discussion with a staffer for her local MP, David Gillespie.
Corrinne Boon’s original post.

A spokesperson for Dr David Gillespie’s office told the ABC that “the comments were incorrect and did not reflect the views of Dr Gillespie or the federal government”.

While Ms Boon made no suggestion that the Coalition government planned to place pensioners on the card, her post was quickly shared by advocacy groups opposed to the card and the restrictions they said it placed on personal freedoms.

Advocacy group The Say NO Seven reposted Ms Boon’s original post on Twitter with her name and profile picture redacted.

Their new caption read “staffer from Gillespie’s office does a whoops and reveals #LNP plans and propaganda strat for putting Age Pensioners onto the #INDUE #cashlessdebitcard …”

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Ms Boon said while she was against cashless debit cards and was concerned their use could be expanded, she was never told that it was a Coalition policy nor plan by the staffer.

A few days later, Labor MP Julian Hill shared The Say NO Seven’s post containing Ms Boon’s redacted post and put his own spin on it, claiming it exposed “Scott Morrison’s secret plan to force Australia’s pensioners onto the cashless welfare card”.

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RMIT ABC Fact Check earlier found the anonymous post was the impetus for Labor’s Cashless Debit Card scare campaign after it was shared by the Labor MP and gained traction last year.

Researcher Julia Bergin — from the non-profit online mis- and dis-information research organisation, First Draft — said that, as an official source, MPs gave information a strong sense of legitimacy.

“Their standing and eminence as government figures gives them both a platform — which means a larger audience — and an automatic stamp of authority,” she said.

“I would anticipate that the narrative pre-dates Corrinne’s post and her anecdote simply acted as an accelerator.

“[It was], ultimately, ‘evidence’ that gave it legs. But the post was critical for Labor to get the scare campaign off the ground in a timely fashion just ahead of the election.

“This is an example of a kernel of truth — in that there were comments made, but in a completely different context — that results in false content.”

Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter repurposing the information from Ms Boon’s initial post have again resurfaced multiple times this month and have been amplified and reshared through local Labor branch pages.

ALP targeting pensioners

At least 15 Labor candidates and MPs have collectively spent thousands of dollars running Facebook ads mentioning the card and pensioners in the past year.

RMIT ABC Fact Check found advertisements that ran last year across the accounts were viewed 367,000 to 460,000 times.

The advertising library of Facebook’s parent company, Meta, shows that several ads were targeted at audiences over the age of 55.

Last June, Labor Party MPs established a “Protecting Pensioners Taskforce”, which later included the rollout of an online petition against the expansion of the card.

Since then, the taskforce has held pensioner forums across Australia, discussing a range of issues, including what they alleged was the Morrison government’s plan to expand the Cashless Debit Card to all pensioners.

Five people sit in a hall, watching a woman speak at a lectern. Labor material is visible.
Labor candidates have been pushing the message that the card will be extended to pensioners at forums such as this one in the marginal seat of Bass in Tasmania. (Facebook: Julian Hill MP)

Posts shared on social media — by the co-chair of the “Protecting Pensioners Taskforce”, Labor MP Julian Hill, Bass candidate Ross Hart and Senator Helen Polley — show claims made at a pensioner forum in Launceston, Tasmania, last week that Labor would “scrap the cashless welfare card for pensioners”.

In a video posted to Julian Hill’s TikTok account following the forum, he claimed that pensioners were “pissed off” because “no one wants to be forced onto this card … pensioners know how to spend their own money”.

Older Australians used as a political football

Despite a detailed fact check by RMIT ABC Fact Check published last month finding that “expanding the cashless debit card system to aged pensioners is not currently part of the Coalition’s official policy platform”, several Labor MPs have continued to claim this is part of the Morrison government’s plan.

Julian Hill declined a request for an interview but, in a statement to the ABC, a Labor spokesperson said that they made “no apologies for highlighting this issue — and we will not take lectures from this government on scare campaigns”.

“Both Scott Morrison and Anne Ruston as Social Services Minister have talked about applying the cashless welfare card more broadly”.

The statement included previous general quotes about expanding the Cashless Debit Card scheme from both Mr Morrison and Ms Ruston dating back to 2019. None mentioned expanding the card to pensioners.



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