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Electoral Reform Act and Online Election Regulation in Ireland

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Electoral Reform Act and Online Election Regulation in Ireland

The Electoral Reform Act, passed by the Oireachtas in the previous year, heralded significant changes in Ireland’s electoral landscape. Notably, the formation of the Electoral Commission this year marked a critical step towards the regulation of elections and referendums. However, the implementation of certain sections of the Act has been delayed due to concerns from the European Commission and resistance from social media giants.

Formation of the Electoral Commission

In response to the Electoral Reform Act, a new authority, the Electoral Commission, was established with the responsibility to oversee and manage elections and referendums. This move aimed to introduce comprehensive online election campaign regulation, including the monitoring and control of paid advertising, while granting substantial authority over internet and social media companies.

Unimplemented Powers

Parts 4 and 5 of the Act, encompassing these influential regulatory powers, have yet to be enforced. The delay in implementation has been attributed to the Irish Minister, Darragh O’Brien, pending further discussions and resolution of issues raised by the European Commission.

European Commission Concerns

The European Commission raised concerns regarding the Act’s new powers, leading to a temporary pause in its implementation. Although the initial 90-day “standstill” period has elapsed, the Irish government is adamant about addressing these concerns satisfactorily before proceeding.

EU-Wide Efforts for Online Election Regulation

Simultaneously, discussions are ongoing in Brussels regarding a potential EU-wide framework for safeguarding and monitoring online elections. It is anticipated that these regulations will be developed later this year or early next year. However, it remains uncertain whether these EU measures will be in place before the upcoming local and European elections and whether they will be as comprehensive as the Irish Act.

Lobbying by Social Media Companies

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed extensive lobbying efforts by social media and internet companies against the measures introduced in the legislation. Key industry figures, including Kent Walker of Google and Nick Clegg of Facebook, expressed their reservations about the Act’s new powers.

Foreign Influence Concerns

Recent reports have indicated that US authorities have warned foreign governments, including Ireland, about potential interference in their elections by entities like Russia, utilizing online misinformation.

Electoral Commission’s Vision

The Electoral Commission, once the relevant sections of the Act are enacted, aims to take a strong stance on regulating online paid political advertising and monitoring and investigating online disinformation, misinformation, and manipulative behavior during election campaigns. They also plan to align their enforcement policies with other EU initiatives and regulations.

In conclusion, the Electoral Reform Act and the formation of the Electoral Commission are pivotal steps in regulating elections and referendums, particularly in the online sphere. The delay in implementing certain powers reflects concerns raised by the European Commission and opposition from social media giants, emphasizing the complexity of this regulatory landscape. The introduction of potential EU-wide regulations further adds to the dynamics surrounding online election regulation in Ireland.

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