Democracy demands plenty of space for political debate, information sharing, deliberation and opinion forming. Reforms that in any way reduce that space, which is protected by international human rights law, must be avoided. As such, I have argued that reforms to tackle disinformation in digital political communication should focus not on the content of the material but on the method of spreading the material online, for example by targeting bot accounts on twitter.
However, several recent parliamentary publications – the House of Lords Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust, the Intelligence and Security Committee Russia Report and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on Misinformation in the Covid-19 Infodemic - critique the ongoing problem of disinformation and call upon the government to act by targeting the content.
The House of Lords proposes that a regulatory committee on political advertising should be formed to develop a code of practice, along with political parties, which will have the ability to restrict “fundamentally inaccurate advertising” during elections and referendum campaigns. The Russia Report argued that the government must urgently “establish a protocol with the social media companies” to ensure that online platforms take action to remove content which is part of a hostile state's disinformation campaign and political influence operation. The DCMSC report urges the government to hurry up and follow through on its commitment to introduce legislation following the Online Harms White Paper which initially listed disinformation as a harm within the scope of online platform’s statutory duty of care potentially leading to the removal of such content.
The seminar will offer a preliminary view of proposals to regulate political speech as far as it is claimed to be inaccurate with reference to the ongoing debate about the “existential threat” to democracy that disinformation poses and the need to preserve the necessary space for freedom of expression and avoid self-serving arbitrators of political speech.
Chair: Dr Nóra Ni Loideain, Director and Lecturer in Law, Information Law and Policy Centre, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.
Speaker: Bethany Shiner is a Lecturer in Law at Middlesex University, London and an ILPC Research Associate.
Bethany has published research on the application of data protection law, electoral law and direct marketing regulations to political microtargeting. She has argued that proposed reforms to tackle the problem of the abuse of personal data for the purpose of online political campaigning and gaps in electoral spending laws have been inadequate.
She has submitted written and oral expert evidence to several parliamentary committees being cited in support of further reforms in the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Electoral Campaigning Transparency final report Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age and the recent House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee final report Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust.
Discussant: Dr Patrick O Callaghan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University College Cork.
This event is free but advanced booking is required. Please note the link to join the meeting will be sent out closer to the event date.