Irish Law Proposed Demanding Five Years in Jail for Promoting ‘Fake News’

Anyone using social media to promote “fake news” in Ireland could be jailed for 5 years and handed a €10,000 euro fine, according to plans put forward by one of the country’s leading political parties.

The proposed law, which also targets supposed “bots” on platforms including Twitter and Facebook, has been proposed by the Fianna Fáil party to fight a perceived rise in online misinformation, the Irish Independent reports.

Opponents of Brexit and the election of U.S. President Donald J. Trump often claim voters were tricked and mislead by new media websites and “Russian bots” propagating “fake news”.

Brexit voters and supporters of President Trump generally say it is the establishment media which distorts facts and reports selectively, however, and that they are in fact guilty of promoting “fake news” themselves.

The definition of “fake news” is, therefore, contested and unclear, with the label being politically weaponized and applied to many respected Right-wing activists and news providers.

The proposed law contains a number of restrictions on online political advertising and will require those purchasing such ads to display a transparency notice stating their aims and target audience.

Fianna Fáil’s James Lawless, who authored the legislation, 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.”

The Kildare North TD added: “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.”

An “online platform” will be defined as a website or social network with more than 10,000 unique monthly visitors and a “bot” will be recognised in law as software automating or controlling 25 or more accounts.

People operating bots on such platforms will be fined between 500 and 10,000 euros depending on the size of the operation, and could be jailed for years.

At the beginning of the year, Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith claimed “fake news” was a threat and argued that because Irland hosts many of the world’s largest tech and social media firms, action was needed.

He said: “While fake news has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months, it is a practice which has been a feature of social media for much longer than that and it poses a serious threat to truth and democracy.

“Many of the world’s most prominent social media companies have their European Headquarters in Dublin so the Government has a responsibility to engage with them to ensure, insofar as is possible, that all efforts are being made to clamp down on the publication of fake news on these platforms.”

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