New bill set to tackle 'fake news' online

The Private Members’ Bill is being brought by Fianna Fáil

New bill set to tackle 'fake news' online

Picture by: Sascha Steinach/DPA/PA Images

Updated: 13.30

A new bill has been introduced in the Dáil to try and combat fake news online.

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless has introduced the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017.

It aims to ensure integrity within the online political sphere and tackle the rise of phoney accounts and orchestrated online campaigns on various social media networks.

The bill contains a number of measures aimed at exposing those that engage in "false flag" and deceptive advertising.

The move comes after a recent report examining social media use during the 2016 US presidential election found that 126 million people were shown Facebook adverts which purported to be from local campaign pages - but were in fact created and spread by Russian entities.

Online political advertising is not currently subject to the same level of regulation as offline or print political campaigns.

Deputy Lawless said: "We live in an age when online and social media is at least as influential as traditional media platforms.

"People are consuming more and more news online and social media platforms are playing a greater role in shaping political debate.

"However despite this the same rigour and robustness does not apply to verifying online content as our laws are still playing catch up in this area.

"If an organisation erected 1,000 posters in a town without disclosing who they were or who funded them, it would be a clear breach of the electoral laws.

"Yet the same thing can be done online in an instant and there is no obligation for any transparency at present.

"The bill I have introduced will bring this transparency to the process by compelling any online advertising for political purposes to state exactly who published and paid for the advert and what the target market is."

Political advertising

The bill also requires a transparency notice to be applied to all online political advertising, stating the publisher and sponsor of the advert.

It also makes it illegal for public monies to be spent toward a political purpose, and proposes a new offence for coordinating multiple fake social media accounts for political purposes.

Mr Lawless adds: "It’s important that we move swiftly to bring some transparency and authenticity to political debate on social media platforms.

"There is growing evidence which shows that manipulation is underway by various actors aimed at undermining the democratic process.

"It’s important that we do all we can to protect the integrity of our democratic process here in Ireland."

He says in an Irish context, there is "very real concern" emerging about the purpose and activities of a new multi-million euro Strategic Communications Unit.

"This legislation will help ensure that citizens can be reassured that none of the five million euro of their money will be used to advance any political agenda."

He says: "There is no reason to think that Ireland will be immune from the sort of disinformation campaigns that are being deployed in other countries in Europe and around the world.

"There is evidence to suggest that large numbers of fake social media accounts are being created in this country.

"The experience in other countries has been that such dormant accounts spring into action during election or referendum campaigns, or at times of controversy."

The Irish Times says breaches of the law could be punishable by a fine of up to €10,000 or five years’ imprisonment.

Social media sties such as Twitter have announced changes to the way political adverts are presented to users.

The company says the increased transparency will apply to political ads and issue-based ads.

It says it is also improving controls for users and adopting stricter advertising policies.

It comes after several US senators and representatives introduced the Honest Ads Act legislation, following concerns about Russian online activity during the 2016 presidential election.