THE challenges posed by the dissemination of ‘fake news’, that term held dear by US President Donald Trump, were highlighted by Kildare TD James Lawless during an address to a UN conference in Geneva last week, which was attended by human rights committee members.
Deputy Lawless, Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Science, Technology, Research and Development, was invited to make a presentation at a session on the challenges of social media. He outlined why it’s essential to balance the protection of free speech with the necessary transparency to ensure democracy and access to the truth isn’t undermined, covering topics including recent controversies, fake news as a political strategy, and the need for regulation.
The TD has spoken about his delight at having the opportunity to discuss how parliaments can help to create a “conducive space” for dialogue, respect and freedom of expression.
“There is a real need for global cooperation in tackling the scourge of ‘fake news’,” he said. “The spread of false information as a political strategy, used maliciously by those who want to sow the seeds of dissent, poses an extreme threat to democracies the world over. Identifying good practices and new opportunities to combat this is pivotal.
“Just recently we have been presented with the first concrete evidence of the targeting of Ireland by Russian operators intent on spreading misinformation and unless action is taken immediately, there will be similar campaigns.”
Deputy Lawless believes that it’s time we got to grips with this issue both at national and global levels, adding that the possibility of a general election in Ireland and a second Brexit referendum in the UK, and the US presidential elections next year, alongside a “general rise in extreme ideologies and populism”, could attract those intent on causing political strife.
Fianna Fáil’s Online Advertising and Social Media Transparency Bill, he added, will make it an offence to deliberately use multiple fake accounts for political purposes and mandate transparency notices for all online political campaigning as is already done for pamphlets and posters.
“Delegates from around the world responded with great interest to the presentation and many requested a copy of the legislation so that they could consider introducing it within their own parliaments,” he explained.
“It is a global challenge and working with colleagues around the world is a sensible step to tackling this together. We must bring an end to the ‘bots’ and ensure a robustness of content while safeguarding our integrity against those who would subvert it in organised, systematic and sinister ways.”