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Regulation of Online Political Advertising Open Policy Forum

Representatives from industry, academia, political parties, the media, and civil society came together today for the first Open Policy Forum on the regulation of online political advertising. in Dublin Castle today.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, TD, officially opened the Forum, stating: “The integrity of our electoral process is of paramount importance to the Government and to all citizens.  I welcome today’s forum as an important contribution to protecting our democratic processes in an online world.”
Speaking at the Forum, the Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform, John Paul Phelan, TD, acknowledged that: “The use of disinformation can erode confidence in democratic institutions as well as in traditional media and, ultimately, may adversely impact upon the ability of the electorate to make informed decisions in the absence of trusted sources of information.” 
However, the Minister noted that regulating in this technically and legally complex area will present a number of particular challenges which will need to be fully and comprehensively addressed if there is a consensus to provide for transparency in online political advertising by law rather than pursue the development of voluntary industry-led agreements.

Participants at the forum discussed a range of important issues including advertising in the political or electoral sphere; freedom of expression, current regulatory frameworks and comparative approaches to regulation and online communications and advertising

Notes for editors

The Government decided in December 2017, following consideration of the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil, to establish the Interdepartmental Group on Security of Ireland’s Electoral Process and Disinformation to consider the risks to Ireland’s electoral process. In particular, the group was tasked with looking at the substantive issues arising from recent experiences in other democratic countries with regard to the use of social media by external, anonymous or hidden third parties.
The group’s 1st Report was published in July 2018 and included a number of recommendations to address the gaps identified and offer a way forward on a more cohesive and coordinated approach to safeguarding of the electoral process from disinformation and security risks.
The Report recognises the need to regulate political advertising.  It noted that these matters touch on very fundamental elements of our democracy, freedom of expression and the discernment of the will of the people. Therefore, any policy must be developed in open consultation with interested parties, Civil Society Organisations, academics, and the media so that all viewpoints are considered and that the solutions adopted enjoy wide democratic endorsement.
The key next steps, as agreed by Government on publication of the Report, included regulation of online political advertising.
To progress this, the Department of the Taoiseach recently held a public consultation on the regulation of transparency of online political advertising. The aim of the forum will be to identify and discuss policy solutions that respect the right to freedom of expression and relevant EU law while promoting the transparency necessary to open political discourse in a democracy that will protect electoral processes from hidden influences and disinformation.