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Guide aimed at tackling election disinformation published

A new guide has been published aimed at tackling disinformation in the run up to the European Parliament, local authority and Limerick mayoral elections on 7 June.

An Coimisiún Toghcháin, the Electoral Commission, has published a framework on online electoral process information, political advertising and deceptive artificial intelligence (AI) content.

The Commission said the framework has been created in response to concerns and evidence from a range of international bodies regarding the potential for false information, deceptive use of AI and other online activity to compromise the integrity of electoral processes and undermine democratic values and principles.

It is intended that An Coimisiún Toghcháin will have powers relating to the regulation of online political advertising and the monitoring and investigation of online disinformation.

However, the relevant parts of the legislation establishing the commission have not yet been enacted.

In the meantime, the Commission has produced the framework as a guide for relevant actors such as online platforms and search engines, as well as political parties and candidates.

Online political advertising

The framework states that paid online political advertisements should be used in a manner consistent with principles of transparency and maintaining the integrity of the electoral processes.

“Paid online political advertisements should be clearly labelled as such in an efficient and visible way to allow users to understand that the content displayed contains political advertising,” the guide states.

It also advises that candidates and parties should adhere to online platforms’ transparency policies and mechanisms and provide accurate information for registration and verification purposes.

Deceptive Al content

In relation to deceptive AI content including “deepfakes”, the guide states that online platforms, search engines and other relevant actors should provide tools to mitigate risks to electoral processes.

These tools should “allow synthetic or manipulated images, audio or video that appreciably resemble existing persons, objects, places, entities, events, or depict events as real that did not happen, to be clearly labelled or otherwise made distinguishable through prominent marking.”

The framework also recommends that candidates and parties should not knowingly produce or disseminate deceptive Al content with the potential to mislead voters or undermine the integrity of the electoral events.

False information

According to the guide, registered political parties, their candidates and non-aligned independent candidates should be committed to promoting integrity and fair campaigning in electoral processes and not spread false online electoral process information.

An Coimisiún Toghcháin said that in preparing the framework, consideration was given to the importance of ensuring a reasonable balance between fundamental rights such as the protection of freedom of expression and opinions, and the right to participate in public affairs and the need to protect democracy and electoral integrity.

An Coimisiún has today written to all registered political parties as well as the independent parliamentary groupings asking them to publicly support the framework and asking that candidates in the June elections voluntarily abide by its principles.

Framework welcomed

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien and Minister of State for Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan welcomed the publication of the guide.

“I was pleased today to engage directly with representatives from platforms and to hear directly from them how they are combatting disinformation online,” Mr O’Brien said.

“From our engagement, it is clear we all have a shared interest in protecting and upholding our elections, the beating heart of our democracy,” he added.

Technology Ireland, the Ibec group representing the technology sector, thanked An Coimisiún Toghcháin for its publication of the framework.

“We welcome that the framework recognises and aligns with numerous measures that our members are already supporting including the EU code of practice on disinformation, the AI Elections Accord and the European Commission’s ‘Guidelines on Systemic Risks for Electoral Processes,” said Una Fitzpatrick, Director of Technology Ireland.

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