Monday 11 November 2019

New law to regulate political advertising online during elections

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

THE government is to bring in a new law to regulate online political advertising during elections.

The new law will aim to ensure that social media users have clear information about who is behind certain advertisements and sponsored or promoted posts that appear on their feeds on websites like Facebook and Instagram.

It will mean that paid-for online advertising by political parties, politicians and other groups during election periods will have to be labelled as such with a link to information in a clear and conspicuous manner.

The measure is a response to what the government admitted was a “lacuna” in legislation and is intended as an interim measure until a long-awaited permanent Electoral Commission is set up.

However, under the new law it will be left to social media companies to determine whether an advert they carry falls under the scope of the legislation and it is unclear what, if any, sanctions will apply if companies do not comply.

“The legislation will apply to online platforms, as sellers or intermediaries of political advertising, and buyers of political adverts,” a government statement said . “The obligation will be placed on the seller to determine that an advert falls under the scope of the regulation.”

“The absence of legislation in this area is recognised by Government as a lacuna. The industry has already taken steps to combat such disinformation but there is general consensus that regulation should not be left to the market.”

READ MORE: Eilis O'Hanlon: 'Devil is in the definition when it comes to banning political ads on social media'

It comes after Twitter said last week it would ban all political ads in response to the growing criticism over misinformation on social media.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had “mixed feelings” about the ban and would not be encouraging other companies to follow suit. Mr Varadkar floated the idea of creating anonymous online internet accounts to make positive comments about news when he was running for the leadership of Fine Gael two years ago.

The announcement of new online advertising laws also comes ahead of a meeting of the international grand committee on disinformation and ‘fake news’ in Dublin on Wednesday and Thursday with a number of Irish politicians to take part in the hearings.

READ MORE: Taoiseach has ‘mixed feelings’ about Twitter ban on political advertising

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