Irish politicians attempt to put a stop to bots that could influence political debate in Ireland.

An Irish politician has brought forward a new bill to the Dáil (Irish parliament) which will attempt to legislate to prevent the spread of fake news stories and articles in Ireland. The ground-breaking proposals were brought forward by opposition party Fianna Fáil in the wake of the influence of bots and fake new articles in politics overseas, especially in the 2016 US Presidential election and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

There are concerns that although fake news has not been used so far to influence political debate in Ireland, even in the particularly intense 2016 general election, that this could change in the future, especially with the prospect of a referendum on the legality of abortion in Ireland on the horizon.

“I think there might be forces at work in Irish society that could mitigate against it,” Irish journalist Dan McGuill told Poynter.

“But ultimately, the absence of fake news as a presence in the online landscape in Ireland might just be down to the fact that the Irish ‘market,’ as it were, has not yet been considered large or lucrative enough to be worth the effort of an organized campaign of monetized misinformation.”

Read more: Irish leader accuses Trump of fake news on corporate tax comments

Is this the right way to combat fake news? Image: iStock

Is this the right way to combat fake news? Image: iStock

The bill proposes that the use of internet “bots” in an attempt to influence political debate could result in five years jail time and a $10,000 fine, placing the same restrictions on online political advertising in Ireland as TV, radio, and print advertisements. This will require those purchasing the ads to provide complete transparency on their aim and who the target audience is to be. Ireland already has much stricter defamation laws than in the US, at least giving the appearance of a much more bipartisan approach to journalism and news reporting with no equal to the likes of Fox News.

The legislation was penned by Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless who told the Irish Independent: “We should not be naive in thinking Ireland will not be affected by the new form of hybrid information warfare which is underway on social media.

"Evidence suggests that an army of fake social media accounts is being amassed to disrupt the democratic process in the future, with journalists and prominent public figures highlighting an upsurge in the number of dubious accounts following them on social media platforms.

"It's highly likely these dormant accounts will spring into action during a future election or referendum campaign, as happened in Britain and the US."

The proposed law cites any website with more than 10,000 unique visitors a month as being an online platform which would fall under these rules while a “bot” would be seen as anything that uses more than 25 accounts or various other online presences to run automated tasks. The bill would make it a  criminal offense to use these to influence others politically, with minor infringements receiving a fine of $500 while more serious cases could face a $10,000 charge.

Read more: Irish leader accuses Trump of fake news on corporate tax comments

Ireland may soon be protected from those wishing to influence the political debate online. Image: iStock.

Ireland may soon be protected from those wishing to influence the political debate online. Image: iStock.

"It's important that we move swiftly to bring some transparency to political debate on social media platforms," Lawless said.

"There is growing evidence which shows that manipulation is underway by various State actors aimed at undermining the democratic process. It's important that we do all we can to protect the integrity of our democratic process here in Ireland."

The proposal is seen as an aggressive move for a problem that has faced Europe and North America in the past year, drawing from the Honests Ads legislation proposed in the United States Congress but going one step further in making the individual use of bots a criminal offense.

There have also been questions raised as to how the law could be enforced if those seeking to influence the debate were not Irish citizens and were attempting to interfere from elsewhere.

Is Ireland right to take steps to prevent the spread of misinformation online? Does more need to be done to combat “fake news?” Tell us your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Steps are being taken to combat fake news in Ireland.iStock