Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless has introduced a new Bill in the Dáil which aims to ensure integrity within the online political sphere and tackle the rise of phoney accounts and orchestrated, anti-democratic online campaigns on various social media networks.

The ‘Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017’ contains a number of ground breaking measures aimed at exposing those that professionally engage in “false flag” and deceptive advertising in order to disrupt the democratic process.

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

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

“Furthermore the Bill explicitly makes it illegal for public monies to be spent toward a political purpose. I am also proposing a new offence for co-ordinating multiple fake social media accounts for political purposes in this country.

“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.

“In an Irish context, there is very real concern emerging about the purpose and activities of the 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.

“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. My and Fianna Fáil’s hope is that this legislation will help counteract any such effort to distort our national conversation.”