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Electoral Commission to be given new powers to tackle online misinformation

Minister for Local Government Darragh O’Brien will bring a bill to Cabinet this morning.

CABINET WILL THIS morning be asked to approve a section of the Electoral Reform Act 2022 which will give the Electoral Commission powers relating to disinformation and misinformation online.

Minister for Housing and Local Government Darragh O’Brien will seek Cabinet approval to progress Part 5 of the bill, which was delayed as the Government was required to ensure it is in harmony with the EU Digital Services Act. 

The European law, which came into effect last year, aims to make social media companies more transparent, with a particular focus on banning or limiting targeting practices and introducing tighter controls on content.

Part 5 of the Irish Government’s bill will create a regulatory framework to give the Electoral Commission powers against the spread and publication of online misinformation.

It’s hoped that these powers will allow the Commission to protect the integrity of elections and referendums in Ireland.

The bill provides for a co-operation agreement to be made between the Electoral Commission and Comisiún na Meán (which has a broader role in relation to online misinformation) to facilitate the sharing of information between them.

It also allows the Electoral Commission to communicate with the public about misinformation or disinformation concerning the electoral process, as well as the use of manipulative or inauthentic behaviour at any time.

This will mean that communications about these issues can be made outside of an electoral period.

Set up in February 2023, the Electoral Commission is an independent State body which oversees electoral functions.

Its work includes explaining to the public what referendums are about, and occasional reviews of Dáil and European Parliament constituencies and local electoral area boundaries.

Speaking earlier this year, Electoral Commission chair Justice Marie Baker said that when the new powers are put in place, the Commission will have the authority to tell social media companies to take certain material down if it is deemed to be false. 

It would also be able to go to the High Court and seek and order for the material to be removed if required.  

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