Minister warns unregulated social media 'among greatest threats' to democracy

Josepha Madigan says democracy should not depend on decisions of companies

Minister warns unregulated social media 'among greatest threats' to democracy

The Twitter social media application is seen on an iPhone | Image: Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images

The Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has said unregulated social media networks could pose one of the biggest threats to western democracy.

Minister Madigan made the remarks at the opening of the 28th Parnell Summer School in Co Wicklow on Sunday.

She said: "Ireland can be proud of the fact that the centre ground in our democracy continues to hold up so well.

"Extremist parties that appear to be thriving on other parts of the globe, even in Europe, are thankfully and rightfully relegated to the fringes of the Irish political landscape."

"Another very real threat to western democracy comes in an altogether new form however.

"Without proper regulation, social media networks have the potential to be used by foreign bodies to affect the outcomes of our national elections and referendums."

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan speaking in Dublin | Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

She added: "There is a growing body of evidence that the Brexit vote and the last US presidential election were significantly influenced by foreign bodies through spend on social media.

"While I welcomed the decision by Google and Facebook to stop advertising related to the Eighth Amendment campaign in the weeks leading up to polling day, the integrity of our democracy should not be dependent on the decisions of these companies."

Minister Madigan also said she supports a recent call by the Standards In Public Offices Commission (SIPO) to establish an electoral commission to deal with digital political campaigns financed from outside the State.

"I also commend the work of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. Its chair Deputy Hildegarde Naughton is right to say that the time for self-regulation by social media platforms is over."

The minister added that she will be asking the Cabinet to prioritise the introduction of legislation and regulation in this area - at both a national and EU level before the end of the year.