There is a clear need to regulate fake and automated social media accounts in the context of political campaigning, a Fine Gael TD has said. Deputy Emer Higgins, is the Fine Gael Spokesperson on Social Media & Fintech, and was speaking after the commencement of pre-legislative scrutiny on the Electoral Reform Bill this week.
Deputy Higgins said; “Through my work on the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, I have a keen interest in the ambition of the Electoral Reform Bill to regulate online political campaigning. The Bill clearly cites regulating political advertising as a way of reducing the advantage that access to money brings to political competition.
“There is, I believe, a very clear need to regulate fake and automated accounts in the context of political advertising.
“Social media is now a vital tool for elected representatives to communicate with their electorate and get their message across. It gives us a national audience, it gives us the ability to target our communications to our electorate and it gives us the ability to amplify and explain our views and our vision.
“However we have seen in other countries how social can be abused with disastrous destabilising consequences. If misused it poses a serious threat to democracy as it allows for such easy and viral spreading of disinformation, for the generation of patterns of online hate messages, and it encourages the proliferation of vitriolic campaigning bots, created solely for political gain of a particular party or cause.
“A big difference between the traditional and online advertising spheres, is type of behind the scenes armour that money can buy you online. For example, using a ‘bot’ to create multiple online presences to help you with a political goal, in my view, is the worst sort of campaigning any party could engage in – it’s deceitful, its disingenuous and it threatens our democracy by spreading falsehoods.
“Politicians and political parties putting money behind social media posts in a deliberate attempt to mislead people on for example the topic of a Dáil vote is, in my view, a direct attack on democracy.
“Ireland needs to be part of the EU wide progress on this issue. Just before Christmas, the European Democracy Action Plan was published, with the aim of ensuring that digital platforms don’t destabilise democracies.
“Mandating social media platforms to remove such content is important, but we also need to examine if we can start fining those behind it.
“This new legislation may provide an opportunity to ensure that social media cannot be politically weaponised through bots and apps, and to ensure better monitoring and regulation of the monies behind political advertising and bots. I will work with my colleagues on the Committee to see how far we can go in this regard.
“Democracy is fragile and allowing social media to become a political weapon threatens it further. We have already seen recent disturbing examples of this in the United States and we must stand up to it in Europe and in Ireland.”