The Fianna Fáil bill on Social Media & Online Advertising Transparency has passed through second stage in the Dáil this evening, despite government opposition, meaning the term finishes for Christmas on a government defeat. In the vote on Thursday evening (14th Dec) the legislation was supported by Fianna Fáil who proposed it, by Sinn Féin, Labour, Greens, Social Democrats, Rural Independent Group and some independent deputies. The government of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance voted against it.
Deputy James Lawless, who drafted and proposed the legislation thanked his own party for supporting the bill and also thanked the other parties and groups who voted for it to progress. He said it was disappointing that the government were out of step with the rest of the Oireachtas and suggested an obstinacy prevented the government from getting behind the bill, pointing to sections within the bill which would ensure the new 5 million strategic communications unit was not permitted to stray into political promotion.
“It is disappointing that the government refused to support the bill. Minister Naughten outlined a various technical issues regarding the bill, in reality these can all be thrashed out at committee stage. Second stage is the point for parties to debate and agree on broad principles and then go forward to refine the details. The bill does contain measures to ensure that the new 5 million strategic communications unit, which the Taoiseach has commissioned, remains politically neutral and I suspect this is motivating the government’s opposition. If this unit is only providing a public information service as the government have claimed, then why would they not get behind the bill? You have to ask the question, who is afraid of transparency?” said Deputy Lawless.
“The passing of this legislation onwards to committee stage is a step forward for integrity and robustness in our online political debates, in the same way as is already applied in traditional media. The bill should be seen in the same vein of law as the lobbying acts, campaign finance rules, standard in public office and the electoral acts. But adding a new dimension for modern technology.”
“The bill contains a number of provisions to bring the electoral acts into the 21st century in terms of extending the same disclosure requirements to online political advertising that currently applies to election posters and leaflets. The bill will ensure all political advertisements online must bear the publisher of the Ad and make clear who is running the Ad. This is to protect the integrity of online debate and ensure our democracy is secured from those who would undermine it in a form of electoral fraud. The social media platforms have openly discussed the difficulties faced in many countries in the last eighteen months with ‘false flag’ accounts running bogus campaigns online and soft money getting behind certain campaigns in a way to subvert the electoral and campaign financing laws” said Deputy Lawless.
“I would like to thank Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Rural Independent Group, other Independent Deputies and of course my own Fianna Fáil party for supporting this bill this evening. The bill now proceeds and I look forward to engaging will all parties as well as external stakeholders and experts in refining the legislation at committee stage next” concluded Deputy Lawless.