Referendum Commission urged to rebut fake news

The Referendum Commission has been urged to act as a de facto fake news debunker during the Eighth Amendment referendum campaign, despite saying it has no official role in policing incorrect online advertising and information on the issue.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she would be in favour of the independent group playing a greater role in tackling fake news on Facebook and Twitter due to the impact it could have on the vote.

As reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, the referendum commission has confirmed that it will have no powers to police online commentary or advertising during the referendum campaign and will instead focus on providing impartial information.

Ms McDonald said while she accepts the commission is independent she would like that this “impartial information” include a focus on debunking fake online news.

“This is the great dilemma of social media now, and the pace at which communications are out in the public domain,” she said.

“I don’t think anybody could be fairly asked to scrutinise every single utterance on Facebook and Twitter, that couldn’t be done.

“I do, however, think that where messages go viral and there is a pattern, as I suspect there will be in a lot of the social media content, I think there is a role for the referendum commission to then adjudicate and take questions and call things on a fact basis, not positions of ideology or opinion.

“They will have to have an eye on that because I know that will drive a good bit of the debate and the questions and the contradictions that arise. They clearly have to have some role in that.”

Ms McDonald’s comments came as the first referendum campaign posters were put up on lamp-posts across the country by pro-choice and pro-life campaigners.

While each side has a number of divergent campaign groups, a small number began putting up posters yesterday as the naming of the Friday, May 25 polling day means this is now allowed.

Several members of the now concluded joint Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, which recommended a series of changes to the law if a referendum is passed, have said concerns raised by Tánaiste Simon Coveney this week were legitimate but had already been examined in private session by the committee.

In particular, they said it is understandable that Mr Coveney said on Newstalk on Wednesday that pregnant women may have to undergo scans to clarify if they are within the 12-week time limit.

However, the committee members said that while this was previously discussed in private meetings of the group late last year, it was decided that this would be unreasonable as there is generally a one-to-two week margin of error around when a pregnancy has begun.


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