Social media trolling and spread of fake news are threat to Irish democracy, say Green Party leaders

Leader Eamon Ryan describes Greens as ‘the vanguard for change’

The leadership of the Green Party has argued that widespread trolling on social media, and the dissemination of fake news, conspiracy theories, and disinformation, now pose a threat to Irish democracy.

Party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin both devoted key passages of their respective speeches to the party’s national convention in Cork to harsh criticism of the baleful effects of social media platforms, where trolls were bombarding people with false information and prejudicial opinions.

Mr Ryan said that was particularly so in relation to messages on climate change. Ms Martin, the Minister for Media, also told delegates that her department was currently working on a national counter-disinformation strategy.

“The digital revolution has its darker side,” Mr Ryan told delegates during his keynote speech at the conference in Cork.


“The algorithms are designed to hold our attention by promoting what we like, confirming our existing prejudices. It is a threat to our democracy as we are bombarded with disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories.”

Mr Ryan said that some with a vested interest in the status quo trolled against those advocating change.

“They attack the climate messenger from the safety of a fake ID,” he contended.

In comments made during the course of the conference on Saturday, Mr Ryan and Ms Martin also pointed to trolling in relation to other issues, including immigration, refugees, and the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza.

Mr Ryan said good quality public broadcasting was one way in which to combat such false narratives. He said that such media should be funded from “a variety of sources” but did not elaborate on the nature of the sources.

The convention focused largely on what the party said was its achievements in Government and claimed that many of its big policy targets set out in the Programme for Government had been achieved.

“In the past, small parties in Government were described as the mudguard. This time around we are the vanguard for change,” Mr Ryan claimed.

In her speech, Ms Martin said the growth of disinformation and misinformation by bad actors had challenged Irish democracy and Irish society, and had the potential to undermine public confidence in news, information, and the political system.

“It is a complex issue and no one approach will solve it. But this Government and I, as Minister for Media, are taking unprecedented steps to address this. Work is well under way in my department on the development of a national counter-disinformation strategy and new laws ... to reduce the availability of harmful online content.”

Ms Martin said a counter to that trend of disinformation was top-quality public sector journalism and broadcasting. She instanced the work of RTÉ journalist Paul Cunningham and cameraman Owen Corcoran from the Middle East this week.

In his speech, Mr Ryan said he would campaign to get a “polluter pays” principle applied at next month’s COP 28 negotiations in Dubai to make the fossil fuel, aviation, and maritime sectors pay for providing clean power to 600 million people currently without electricity in Africa.

He said he had been supported in the stance by colleagues at the European Environment Council earlier this week.

Mr Ryan and Ms Martin made numerous references in the course of their speeches to the achievements of the Green Party in Government, including the €3 billion capital funding for climate change announced in the budget, the €1.3 billion afforestation programme recently initiated by Minister of State for Forestry Pippa Hackett, as well as policies to bring cheaper public transport, establish new cycle lands, and promote active travel.

Earlier in the day Mr Ryan said that weather systems “have gone off the charts”, warning against a pattern of “shooting the messenger” when it comes to climate action.

Asked about his party’s low poll ratings, Mr Ryan said that the climate issue had understandably not been to the forefront of people’s mind because of other major events such as Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and substantial increases in the cost of living.

“What we want to do is radical change. That’s not easy. I’m very confident that in the nine months to June that tide will turn.”

Mr Ryan repeated his prediction that the party could double its number of councillors to 100 and said there was no reason why it could not reach 10 per cent of support in the next general election, which he said would take place in March 2025.

Asked if he would go into a coalition with Sinn Féin if that was the choice the Greens faced, Mr Ryan said his party was prepared to go into government.

“I think we should go into government because I think it’s not a time for sitting on the bench. It’s time for action this decade.

“So, yes, I think we should be willing to work with all parties. That would involve difficult programme-for-government negotiations, because, being honest, Sinn Féin has not shown an interest in protecting the environment to the extent that we think is appropriate.

“[If that is the option] we’ll sit down with [Sinn Féin] and try to make that happen. We get on well with our Coalition parties, and we have got involved with Labour and the Social Democrats. That’s the nature of our party. We tend to try to work with other people.”

Speaking to The Irish Times ahead of the conference, Mr Ryan said Ireland must change how it manages land, including paying farmers to encourage new practices, to reduce flooding risk in the future.

Expanding on the point at the conference, the Green Party leader said Ireland would need to improve its flood prediction capability in future to prevent the extensive damage that occurred in Midleton and other Cork towns and villages this week.

Addressing the flood risk in Midleton required as many as six different interventions in the Owenacurra river which flowed through the town, he said.

“It’s really complex, but we have to to improve our flood prediction capability. We have really good prediction capability around weather now and very good modelling of weather systems. We need to enhance our modelling of flood systems.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times