Facebook executives to face questioning at Dáil committee

Advertising on social media network during abortion referendum to be discussed

Facebook headquarters in Dublin has told the committee that it will send a delegation to the hearing scheduled for next Tuesday. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Facebook headquarters in Dublin has told the committee that it will send a delegation to the hearing scheduled for next Tuesday. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Facebook executives are to attend the Oireachtas communications committee next week, where they are likely to face questions about the security of users’ data and advertising on the social media network during the abortion referendum.

Facebook headquarters in Dublin has told the committee that it will send a delegation to the hearing scheduled for next Tuesday where TDs and Senators will discuss proposed legislation which would make online political advertising more transparent.

Facebook yesterday did not return repeated calls, emails and texts, but it is understood that the team of executives attending will include Niamh Sweeney, Facebook’s head of public policy in Ireland and previously an adviser to former tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

The Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, will also attend the committee hearing next week, as will officials from the Department of Communications and psychologist and information security consultant Dr Ciaran McMahon.

Regulate political campaigning

The committee will discuss a private members’ Bill proposed by Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, which proposes a number of measures to regulate political campaigning and advertising online. The Bill passed a second-stage vote in the Dáil, and is now due to be examined by various stakeholders and the Oireachtas committee.

One of the proposals in the Bill is to make all online political advertising show who has paid for it. Currently, broadcast political advertising is banned, but there is no regulation of online advertising. Already there is evidence of a significant online campaign in the abortion referendum, though there is no obligation on advertisers or internet companies such as Google, Facebook or YouTube to identify the advertisers.

“This is simply about bringing our electoral laws into line with campaigning on online media,” Mr Lawless, who is vice-chairman of the committee, said.

“The principal requirement in my Bill is that political advertising on social media would carry a ‘transparency notice’ which states the publisher and sponsor of each ad as well as the targeting metrics, if applicable,” Mr Lawless said.

Data breaches

“Most of this is being piloted already within many of the social media firms and can also be done in a low-tech way by simply including a small notice on the graphic on an ad – in the same way as is already done for posters and pamphlets and in fact is already required by law under the electoral Acts from 1992. Obviously that was pre-internet, pre-broadband and pre-social media,” he said.

However, TDs are also likely to question Facebook executives about the data breaches at the company which saw the personal data of millions of users passed to political campaigns to enable them to be targeted with particular political messages.

This week Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologised for the company’s failures at congressional hearings in Washington.