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Press Release

Proposal to Regulate Transparency of Online Political Advertising

Published: 5 November 2019
From: Department of the Taoiseach

Issued by the Government Press Office

The Government today approved a proposal to Regulate Transparency of Online Political Advertising. The detailed Proposal is outlined in the Progress Report of the Interdepartmental Group on the Security of Ireland’s Electoral Process and Disinformation (IDG) which will be published shortly. It follows from a public consultation and open policy forum on the issue.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will lead on drafting Heads of a Scheme to make provision in legislation for regulation of transparency of online paid political advertising within election periods, in conjunction with Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and other members of the IDG as appropriate.

The overarching policy objectives are:

  • to protect the integrity of elections, ensure they are free and fair, and not captured by a narrow range of interests.
  • to respect the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the value of political advertising and its importance to democratic and electoral processes while ensuring that regulation of expression meets the requirements of lawfulness, necessity and proportionality.
  • to respect the role of the internet in the public sphere of political discourse and ensure that the public have access to legitimate information required in order to make autonomous voting decisions.

The legislation will apply to online platforms, as sellers or intermediaries of political advertising, and buyers of political adverts. The obligation will be placed on the seller to determine that an advert falls under the scope of the regulation. Online paid-for political advertisement will be required to be labelled as such and clearly display certain information, or a link to the information, in a clear and conspicuous manner.

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. This proposal to regulate is limited to online political advertising and is seen as an interim measure until the establishment of a Statutory Electoral Commission which will oversee a wider reform of the electoral processes.

Ends

Note For Editors

The Government established an Interdepartmental Group (IDG) on Security of the Electoral Process and Disinformation to consider the issues arising from recent experiences in other democratic countries with regard to the use, and misuse, of social media by external, anonymous or hidden third parties.

The IDG’s 1st Report was brought to Government and published in July 2018 (Gov.ie ). The main finding was that risks to the electoral process in Ireland are relatively low but that the spread of disinformation online and the risk of cyber-attacks on the electoral system pose more substantial risks. The Report outlined 7 recommendations and Recommendations and (1) Expedite the establishment of an Electoral Commission as outlined in the Programme for Partnership Government and (3) Regulate transparency of online political advertising were deemed as key to tackling this issue.

This Progress Report of the Group outlines developments under each of the 7 recommendations.

A public consultation and open policy forum on the regulation of transparency of online political advertising was held in December 2018. The submissions received and the Report of the Forum are available on Gov.ie together with a video recording .