Social media legislation cannot be introduced ‘on the hoof’, says Bruton

Education Minister makes comment in light of social media being used to influence referendums

Richard Bruton said  there was no doubt there were activities which were a cause of concern to anyone who wanted to see citizens make a discerning decision based on fair information.  File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Richard Bruton said there was no doubt there were activities which were a cause of concern to anyone who wanted to see citizens make a discerning decision based on fair information. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Legislation on the use of social media to influence elections and referendums cannot be introduced “on the hoof’’, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said.

“We would need to think carefully about the implications of seeking to regulate this area because it goes to the heart of people’s right to express themselves,’’ he added.

“We need to think long, hard and carefully as to how we would address this issue.’’

Mr Bruton told the Seanad on Tuesday there was no doubt, as one scanned the world stage, there were activities, whether they be bots or other operations, which were a cause of concern to anyone who wanted to see citizens make a discerning decision based on objective and fair information.

The Minister was replying to Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield, who said two weeks into the abortion referendum extensive investigative journalism had shown the use of websites and paid advertising for the No campaign were used at a cost of six figures a day.

Numerous Facebook pages, with few followers, had had suddenly poured resources into paid advertising, targeting voters, he added.

“These advertisements are dishonest and subversive and are intended to scaremonger voters who seek to establish their own views,’’ Mr Warfield said.