The Irish Times view on election interference: new commission faces a daunting challenge

The great unknown is whether the new wave of generative AI tools will flood the information space with content designed to mislead, provoke or enrage

Elections are the lifeblood of any democracy, but they also represent a point of political vulnerability and uncertainty which anti-democratic forces will seek to exploit and subvert. Those opportunities have increased exponentially since the revolution in communications technology sparked by the internet.

Next year will see an unusually high number of important elections taking place internationally, including votes in the world’s largest democracy, India, and its wealthiest, the US. Elections will also be held in countries ranging from South Africa, Ghana and Mexico to Belgium and the UK. A new European Parliament will be elected in June, while an Irish general election seems possible before the end of 2024.

Ireland is one of a number of countries which have been contacted by the US state department to warn of potential Russian interference in upcoming elections. Russia denies the claims, but US officials believe that, emboldened by the success of previous attempts, it is seeking to sow division and undermine the credibility of the election process in countries it perceives to be hostile to its own national interest. A Government spokesman has confirmed talks have taken place with US officials on the matter.

Responsibility for protecting the integrity of the State’s elections now rests with An Coimisiún Toghcháin, the independent electoral commission established this year. The commission’s chief executive, Art O’Leary, has confirmed it has responsibility for combating all disinformation from any source during a campaign. The difficulty the commission will face is the speed with which such material can spread. A social media post can go viral in minutes, but may take hours, days or even weeks to rebut or refute effectively.


The great unknown as we head into this year of elections is whether, as some predict, the new wave of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and DALL-E will flood the information space with highly plausible content designed to mislead, provoke or enrage. These technologies make it possible to produce and distribute disinformation at a previously unimaginable scale, to generate fake audio or video of real people and to disseminate an almost limitless firehose of material designed to stoke conspiracy theories and feed resentment. Previous elections have already shown how social media platforms can be weaponised to micro-target those most vulnerable to such tactics. And while this year has seen a welcome tightening of EU regulations, it remains to be seen how effective these will prove in the real-time intensity of a short campaign. O’Leary has said the commission will use “every avenue”, as well as working closely with media and technology companies. The electoral commission faces a daunting challenge and will need skill and substantial resources to meet it.