New legislation to regulate political advertising on social media

Rules aim to prevent elections from being captured by a ‘narrow range of interests’

The move comes a week after Twitter decided to ban all political advertising on its website. Photograph: iStock

The move comes a week after Twitter decided to ban all political advertising on its website. Photograph: iStock

 

The Government has approved new regulations designed to ensure that political advertising on social media and other digital platforms is fully transparent and clearly identified.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Cabinet approved draft legislation to regulate paid political advertising online. The aim of the legislation is to protect the integrity of elections and prevent them from being captured by a “narrow range of interests”.

The new legislation will allow political advertising online but it will have to be clearly labelled as such and display certain information, or links, in a clear manner.

The move comes a week after Twitter made a sweeping decision to ban all political advertising on its website. Its founder Jack Dorsey had expressed concern about the difficulties of dealing with false claims. The decision has put pressure on Facebook to follow suit, but until now it has shown no inclination to do so.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week gave an initial reaction to the Twitter decision, saying he was not sure if he agreed with it, citing the implication a blanket ban would have on legitimate political advertising.

However, the Government said on Tuesday it recognised that the absence of legislation in this areas was a “lacuna”.

“The industry has already taken steps to combat such disinformation but there is general consensus that regulation should not be left to the market.

“This proposal to regulate is limited to online political advertising and is seen as an interim measure until the establishment of a Statutory Electoral Commission which will oversee a wider reform of the electoral processes,” it said.

Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton, who is chair of the Oireachtas Communications Committee, has done a lot of work in this area as part of an international committee of parliamentarians along with colleagues Eamon Ryan (Green Party) and James Lawless (Fianna Fáil). The Oireachtas is hosting a special day-long discussion on fake news in the Seanad on Thursday, which will be attended by politicians from nine countries as well as leading figures in technology, media, and data and online regulation.