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Fake Tweet About Death Taxes Blasted As 'Dangerous Attack On Democracy'

A Photoshopped tweet claiming the union movement supported 'death taxes' has been slammed as a "dangerous attack on democracy".

A screenshot of a tweet, purportedly written by Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, circulated on Twitter over the weekend. In the screenshot, timestamped as having been written on Sunday, McManus appears to say that the ACTU "proudly supports" an inheritance tax.

But McManus quickly pointed out that she had never written such a message, as well as calling out several other inaccuracies pointing toward it being a faked tweet.

"I did not send any such tweet - please remove it," she wrote on Sunday night, in reply to the original tweet containing the faked screenshot. The tweet, and the account that posted it, appear to have been deleted from Twitter as of Monday afternoon.

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"This bloke is circulating a fake tweet. Clearly photoshopped. I did not write this. I do not own an Android. Help me expose it and get it removed," McManus added later, noting that the purported tweet carried a 'Twitter For Android' tag.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus. Photo: AAP

It was also raised later that an ACTU official would use the word "delegates", rather than "candidates" as used in the tweet.

The tweet was shared by former Liberal MP and now Sky News presenter Gary Hardgrave. It was later deleted, and Hardgrave apologised for being "duped" by the "elaborate fake tweet".

The inheritance tax issue has come to light in other social media 'fake news' in recent days, after Labor demanded an investigation into how "thousands" of Facebook posts had circulated claiming the opposition would introduce a "death tax".

Countless profiles shared posts and messages with the claim, while right-wing Facebook groups and even some political candidates added to the rhetoric.

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Coalition MP George Christensen, in danger of losing his Queensland seat of Dawson in the May 18 election, claimed on Facebook that "the union bosses have demanded Bill Shorten introduce a death tax".

One image, circulating on a popular right-wing group, claimed that Labor's policy would mean people would "lose your grandma and your inheritance at the same time".

A graphic shared on right-wing Facebook pages.

Labor's campaign headquarters wrote to Facebook this weekend, claiming the message "seems to be an orchestrated message-forwarding campaign about the issue".

Labor maintained that "these claims are false and it is not Labor's policy to introduce a death or inheritance tax."

Labor leader Bill Shorten called out the "ridiculous death tax scare" as a form of "low-rent, American-style fake news".

Bill Shorten has called out the "fake news" online. Photo: AAP

McManus told 10 daily she was concerned by the tweet attributed to her.

"Those perpetrating it are so desperate they will lie and spread fake news on social media in an attempt to mislead and scare voters. Misinformation started a week ago on Facebook and spread to Twitter this week," she said in a statement.

"This is a dangerous attack on democracy and Scott Morrison should give undertakings that his party will not be part of it.

"Australian voters deserve better than this."

Facebook Australia had prepared for an onslaught of fake news during the current federal election, introducing a new local fact-checking tool, and blocking election ads from overseas.

Facebook has rolled out new tools in Australia. Photo: Getty

Just a fortnight ago, the social media giant unveiled a raft of sweeping changes to "safeguard elections in Australia", including greater transparency over permitted ads, and the expansion of a third-party fact-checking tool to scrutinise news being shared.

"Our approach is multi-faceted and includes finding and removing fake accounts, reducing misinformation, disrupting bad actors and increasing ads transparency," Facebook's director of policy for Australia Mia Garlick said.

The strategy included a plan to reduce the distribution of articles deemed to be fake news, removing fake accounts, and working with international news agency Agence France-Presse to remove misinformation.

Photo: Getty

"Once a story is rated as false, we show it lower in the News Feed. In our past experience, once a story is rated as false, we've been able to reduce its future views by more than 80 percent on average," Garlick said.

At the time, journalism academic Professor Peter Fray -- co-director of the Centre for Media Transition at the University of Technology Sydney -- said he feared fake news had potential to have a significant effect on the federal campaign.

"Without blaming them, social media platforms have weaponised fake news," he told 10 daily.