Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment

Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 and the Influence of Social Media: Discussion (Resumed)

4:00 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I have a few questions of my own before we move around the table. I thank Ms White for the update and positive engagement. We are thinking along the same lines, which is great. I was aware that Twitter had been progressing these measures for some time in parallel.

Ms White mentioned a transparency platform. It seems to be along the lines of Facebook's platform to view advertisements, where one can go to see advertisements that others are running. I am aware that during the recent elections in the United States, there was an issue with "dark" advertisements, where someone could be disingenuous and run an advertisement targeting a segment of the population, with two different messages targeting different segments. The two different segments might never speak to each other and might never see the same advertisements, so a person could get away with saying two things to different groups of people. That was seen as politically dishonest. I am aware of a movement in the United States to do that. I am not sure that it is as much of an issue in Ireland. It is good that that has been progressed and tackled but a more fundamental issue is transparency about the advertisements. It is useful to see what other advertising campaigns are running but it is most important to see who is running a specific set of advertisements. I might have missed that in the presentation so I ask for clarification on that. Are there moves to ensure that sponsored tweets can be linked back to see who is running them? Is that part of the package? I thank Twitter for the blue tick, which I received recently. I am certainly above board.

I know a representative from Twitter mentioned bots in an earlier submission but they were not mentioned in the oral submission. It is important that we define bots. I welcome all input on this. I have tried to define "bots" in a specific way in the legislation to say that not all bots are bad. I use a bot for running and it prompts me every week about going out for my run. It can be quite useful. There are many innocent bots, such as "word of the day" bots and others. The way I have defined a "bot" in the legislation is as one that is deliberately masquerading as and purporting to be something that it is not. I have also set it to a level of 50 or more bots, to not have it apply to somebody is messing around at home. I welcome further debate on that.

I thank Ms Perreault for her statement. It seems to dovetail with what we are all saying here. I notice in the annual report for 2017 that there is a strong statement from SIPO, highlighting that there is a gap in the law and potential for manipulation, particularly by foreign actors. I thank Ms Perreault for highlighting that. SIPO set out the provisions that exist, the terms of which it is bound by. The unique thing about this House is that if we do not like the law, we can amend it. We need majority support and usually to have the Government onside but that is what we are here for. What would Ms Perreault like to see, whether this Bill or a variation of this? I welcome her thoughts on that.


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