Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless wants legislation to crack down on fake Twitter bots

Running multiple fake Twitter accounts will be outlawed under legislation being put forward by Fianna Fáil.

The party is bringing forward a bill to tackle an increased phoney bots and orchestrated, anti-democratic online campaigns on various social media networks.

Fianna Fail TD James Lawless who is bringing forward the Social Media and Online Advertising (Transparency) Bill 2017 said the measures will combat “deliberate online deception for political purposes”.

The bill, due to be debated in the Dáil tonight will also address the much-criticised Strategic Communications Unit, set up by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to promote Government initiatives.

Fianna Fáil accused Fine Gael of abusing the unit for their own political advertising and are bringing forward measures in the bill to block this. In a bid to combat automated Twitter bots, the party want to ban anyone from having more than 25 online accounts, however, Mr Lawless said this could be revised up or down at committee stage.

“I can see no good reason why any normal individual would want to run 25 or more deliberate fake accounts, run by software and presented in such a way as to pretend to the user that they are actually separate unique accounts,” he said. “This is about deception.”

Mr Lawless also criticised the Government’s use of the Strategic Communications Unit, claiming it has been already used for political purposes and not simply as a Government information service.

“We are all very aware of the €5m spin machine,” he said. “We have seen a lot of promotion of individual ministers, I have a question mark about why some ministers are being put forward rather than others, we haven’t yet seen any Independent ministers featuring in the adverts, which I think is interesting. I do think they skirt into political advertising so under this bill they would be blocked.”

Mr Lawless said a number of paid ads from the Strategic Communications Unit on social media have “strayed the far side of the line” adding: “If the same thing was done on radio it would actually be illegal under Section 41(3) of the Broadcasting Acts”

“There is nothing wrong with having a Government information service that provides real information to real people, I am absolutely for it.

“Having an information service or a unit that actually propagates politically motivated information, or political individuals at the expense of others is a problem.”

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