Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Questions (157)

Niall Collins

Question:

157. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on reports that an operation (details supplied) was involved in spreading fake news regarding Northern Ireland amongst others; the actions he will take following this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27591/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am aware of the recent report by the Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRLab), a reputable organisation, part of the Atlantic Council, an independent US based Think Tank. The report concerns possible evidence of a disinformation campaign partly aimed at exacerbating divisions in Northern Ireland and is an issue which the relevant security services here will be appraising.

Protecting democratic processes and institutions from disinformation is a major challenge for all societies. In order to tackle this challenge, the EU is building a robust framework for coordinated action which is fully in line with European values and fundamental rights, and with which Ireland is fully engaged.

Measures adopted to date by the European Council - the EU Joint Action Plan against Disinformation and the dedicated Elections Package – have already helped to deter attacks and expose disinformation. Within the framework of these actions, increased public awareness has made it harder for malicious actors to manipulate the public debate.

More broadly, the EU has strengthened its capabilities to identify and counter disinformation, via the Strategic Communication Task Forces and the EU Hybrid Fusion Cell in the European External Action Service. A Rapid Alert System has also been established to facilitate the prompt exchange of information between Member States and the EU institutions where suspect disinformation campaigns have been detected.

The EU also works closely with online platforms and industry through a voluntary Code of Practice to increase the transparency of political communications and to prevent the manipulative use of their services. This allows users to know why they see specific political content and ads, and see where they come from and who is behind them.

The fight against disinformation is a long-term challenge that concerns all parts of our societies and requires continuous commitment and efforts. The private sector, especially the online platforms, have a particular responsibility. Further proposals to strengthen our collective action in response to this ever-evolving threat are likely and Ireland will fully support any such actions once they align with our fundamental values, notably the right to freedom of expression.