Thursday 16 August 2018

Ireland can lead the fight against 'disinformation'

Pat Rabbitte, ex-communications minister; Kate Shanahan, Head of Journalism DIT; Stephen Rae, INM Editor-in-Chief; Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History at TCD; and Kevin Doyle, INM
Pat Rabbitte, ex-communications minister; Kate Shanahan, Head of Journalism DIT; Stephen Rae, INM Editor-in-Chief; Jane Ohlmeyer, Professor of Modern History at TCD; and Kevin Doyle, INM
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Ireland should pitch to become a European centre for tackling the phenomenon of 'fake news' and 'disinformation', two leading academics said.

Our healthy democracy and ability to house some of the world's leading internet companies are cited as reasons why there is a "wonderful opportunity to do good in this space".

Speaking on a special Independent.ie podcast, Jane Ohlmeyer (Erasmus Smith's Professor of Modern History at Trinity College) and Kate Shanahan (Head of Journalism and Communications at DIT) agreed that Ireland is well-placed to be a world leader.

Ms Ohlmeyer said: "I think we've got the expertise in terms of the technology. But we are also a great example of a democracy that's actually functioning remarkably effectively at the moment."

She suggested education facilities on both sides of the Border should work with computer scientists and big tech firms on a "very inclusive basis".

Ms Shanahan said many online platforms have "not been willing" to consider "curbing or monitoring what they do".

"It has run away with them. They haven't staffed up the way a newspaper would have to because they haven't been subject to the same laws as a newspaper or media outlet has."

The podcast, hosted by INM's Group Political Editor Kevin Doyle, also features former communications minister Pat Rabbitte and INM's Editor-in-Chief Stephen Rae. They were reacting to the publication of a High Level Expert Group (HLEG) report compiled for the European Commission. It recommended platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should sign up to a Code of Practice, accepting responsibility for their role in fighting 'fake news'.

But Mr Rabbitte suggested it should have gone further to put pressure on digital companies to actively prevent false information being spread online.

"Fake is as old as the Roman civilisation but not in the sense that we are talking about here," he said. "I would argue for some more imposition on the digital companies themselves."

Mr Rae, who was the Irish representative on the HLEG, explained there was a consensus that this report is a first step in a "carrot and stick" approach if the companies don't engage.

Addressing the decision to sideline the phrase 'fake news' in favour of 'disinformation', Mr Rae said the "overwhelming majority didn't want it called 'fake news'".

"The way Donald Trump has been using it makes it increasingly more weaponised.

"The consensus was to describe it as it is, and that is disinformation," he said.

Hear the full podcast on www.independent.ie.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News