We’re all so plugged in your only choice is to be connected or else you can go live in the woods hunting badgers, left wondering how long you can stay off the grid before you appear on National Geographic.
As savvy connected hamsters we have slowly come to terms with how Google read our e-mails in order to select what appears in our ad banners, we know Facebook have reinvented the world of marketing, and we’re now all too familiar with terms such as ‘Fake News’ and ‘Bot Accounts’. Most people have accepted that Russia interfered in the American presidential elections and most people are aware of political groups and lobbyists interfering in elections with waves of unaccountable ad warfare on social media.
In November I wrote about how outdated our legislation is to ensure we have a level political playing field in our elections. To ensure we have fair elections we have an act which outlines what each candidate is permitted to spend in campaigning, for the record the most a candidate can spend is €45,200 in promoting themselves. The act is called the Electoral Act and it was passed in 1997, some 20 years ago and a decade before the advent of social media.
Following on from this I recently picked up the Irish Times to read a story about how Fianna Fail have challenged the Taoiseach’s (Leo) use of Government websites. Fianna Fail spokesperson on Technlogy, James Lawless, told the Times he has “serious concerns” regarding Leo Varadkar’s use of Merrionstreet.ie, a Government information website.
Big Jim outlines how Taoiseach Leo is using public money to fund videos which cost in the region of €100,000 but end up being used for party political means. This creates an unfair political playing field and is borderline propagandist in nature. Fine Gael yet to use Merrion Street to explain why Frances Fitzgerald resigned or why Cllr Brian Murphy lost the party whip.
In reaction to interference in our elections and for greater clarity in social media spending James Lawless has introduced the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017.
This is one of the most significant laws introduced in the whole word to prevent cyber interference in western democracy, while also managing to snipe at the heels of Fine Gael who have remained unaccountable in their social media spending. Two birds with one stone I hear you cheer. Death to Russian Bots and Fine Gael propoganda.
The very mention of cyber laws is always daunting, we have seen the introduction of fairly ominous legislation such as the Snooper’s charter in the UK, but we must also be weary of threats to our society by cyber means, and social media is such a significant part of life now it would be foolish to allow it to grow in an unregulated environment, especially with proven threats and growing interference from unknown sources in our elections and referendums.
To this end Big Jim has done this country a great service as we have an opportunity to see who exactly funds our candidates in the next election, we have an opportunity for transparency to see exactly which politicians are funded by those parties implicated in the Paradise Papers. If we can go a step further in exposing how corrupt this little parliament of lobbyist funded clowns is then I might just very well forgive Fianna Fail for bankrupting the country, or at the very least stop spray painting it on my local library wall.