Facebook accused of ‘disingenuous’ submission over Electoral Reform Bill

The social media giant urged Irish politicians to hold off on a new bill which will regulate online political advertising in the run up to elections
Facebook accused of ‘disingenuous’ submission over Electoral Reform Bill

By James Ward, PA

Facebook has been accused of being disingenuous in its submission on a new Bill which seeks to regulate online political advertising.

The social media giant urged TDs to hold off on the Electoral Reform Bill until the upcoming Digital Services Act is introduced at EU level.

It argues that if inconsistent regulatory regimes are introduced, the company could be forced to choose “between violating Irish law or violating EU law”.

The Bill proposes to set up a statutory, independent Electoral Commission for Ireland, which would require social media companies to regulate online political advertising in the run-up to elections.

Facebook head of public policy in Ireland, Dualta O Broin, said: “As an overarching point it is Facebook’s belief that online political advertising rules and standards should be harmonised across the EU, to the greatest extent possible.

“We are concerned that enacting these provisions at this time will lead to a lack of alignment between the requirements which exist, during the electoral periods in Ireland and the year-round, EU-wide rules for political advertising, which the European Commission intends to introduce in the European Democracy Action Plan, and the Digital Services Act.

“We understand that the Commission intends to publish a legislative proposal for political advertising in the next six months.

“There is a very real possibility that online platforms could find themselves under two inconsistent regulatory regimes and placed in the undesirable and avoidable situation where they would have to choose between violating Irish law or violating EU law.”

Mr O Broin raised his concerns at the Oireachtas Committee on Local Government on Monday.

But the claims that Facebook would have to choose between violating Irish law and European law were dismissed as disingenuous by Sinn Féin TD Eoin O Broin.

He said: “I think it’s important just for Committee members, to be very clear, the Digital Services Act does not deal with elections.

Eoin O Broin
Sinn Féin TD Eoin O Broin (Niall Carson/PA)

“Elections are the exclusive preserve of member states and therefore, the Digital Services Act, if I understand it right, is to provide the kind of the basic set of rules that should operate around digital transparency and accountability across the EU.

“But every member state, because each electoral process is different, is absolutely within its rights if it wants to set a different or higher or specific set of requirements during elections.

“So rather than as your statement, I think this disingenuously suggests, that people have to choose between violating Irish law or violating EU law, because I would hope Facebook never chooses to violate any law.

“What you’d actually be doing is you’d be complying with both sets of laws.

“The general Digital Services Act as it applies in ordinary times. And then in any individual member state, any specific additional requirements that the legislators in that jurisdiction feel are necessary to protect the integrity of their state. ”

Mr Dualta O Broin said that while the Digital Services Bill does not propose to regulate transparency and political advertising, the European Democracy Action Plan would do so on an EU-wide basis.

He added: “It would seem to us, given that that instrument is just on the horizon, to at least wait to see what its scope is going to be, before bringing in these detailed provisions at this time.”

Facebook also took issue with provisions in the Bill which would require it to identify the source of funding for political advertisements, saying this should be a job for the regulator.

More in this section