Electoral Commission to have powers to confront social media outlets

Electoral Reform Bill 2022 makes provision for tackling online disinformation during elections and referendums

Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be forced to take down misleading information at election time under proposed legislation.

The Electoral Reform Bill 2022 envisages the Electoral Commission having the power to investigate online claims that amount to disinformation at election times.

It would be able to order social-media outlets to take down offending posts, correct them or label them as potential misinformation.

It would also be able to order any host of any online platform to publish a statement informing all readers of manipulative or inauthentic behaviour or the use of an undisclosed bot.

Online platforms would be required to report possible disinformation, misinformation or manipulative, inauthentic behaviour in the online sphere to the commission in the lead-up to an electoral or referendum period.

They would also be required to put in place a means for readers to report possible online disinformation.

The Bill was introduced by the Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien in January.

Its biggest provision is the establishment of an Electoral Commission, independent of Government, which would regulate online advertising, ensure the electoral register is up to date and replace the Referendum Commission.

Responsibility for the oversight and maintenance of the register of political parties would be transferred from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to the Electoral Commission.

The whole process of registering to vote would be simplified, with new forms and an online option for registration. Under the new system, 16- and 17-year-olds could preregister and then be included on the main register upon turning 18.

A new rolling, or continuously updated, electoral register will be introduced. Personal public service (PPS) numbers would be used to cross-check information to ensure the accuracy of the data. A single authority would manage a shared database of all local-authority data.

The leader of each political party would have to send a written statement to the Standards in Public Office Commission confirming that all donations to the party from outside the State, including all contributions, whether in cash or in kind, had been declared.

Under the new plans, political parties would have to make an annual declaration about the properties they own. This could impact most significantly on Sinn Féin. The Irish Times reported in 2020 that Sinn Féin owns up to 50 properties in constituencies around Ireland. At the time, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both said they owned a small number of properties.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times