New laws propose five years in prison for spreading fake news

President Donald Trump has often railed against what he terms 'fake news'
President Donald Trump has often railed against what he terms 'fake news' President Donald Trump has often railed against what he terms 'fake news'

ACTIVELY promoting 'fake news' using social media sites will be made an offence under proposals to be brought before the Dáil.

New laws tabled by Fianna Fáil would also see the use of internet 'bots' to influence political debate punished with five years in jail or fines of up to €10,000.

The legislation also contains restrictions on online political advertising and will require the purchasers of ads to display a transparency notice stating their aim and target audience.

The bill comes on the back of claims that the election of US President Donald Trump was heavily influenced by Russian entities.

It is expected to have a major impact on the practices of political parties in the Republic.

It also comes as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) has launched a logo to reassure readers that they are being protected from fake news.

Newspapers, websites and magazines signed up to Ipso, which includes the Irish News, can use the logo as a guarantee to readers they are not being misled. The slogan that accompanies the symbol states: "For press freedom with responsibility."

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, wrote the legislation, said people should not be naive in thinking "Ireland will not be affected by the new form of hybrid information warfare which is underway on social media".

"Evidence suggests that an army of fake social media accounts is being amassed to disrupt the democratic process in the future, with journalists and prominent public figures highlighting an upsurge in the number of dubious accounts following them on social media platforms," he said.

"It's highly likely these dormant accounts will spring into action during a future election or referendum campaign, as happened in Britain and the US."

Mr Lawless told the Irish Independent that there needed to be a clampdown on numerous fake accounts being used "to disseminate a political message".

The law states that any person who knowingly uses an automated bot - that run 25 or more social media accounts or profiles online - in such a way as to cause multiple online profiles to act in a political way, will be guilty of an offence.

A low-level breach could result in a €500 fine or six months in jail, rising to €10,000 and up to five years for a serious infringement.

"It's important that we move swiftly to bring some transparency to political debate on social media platforms," Mr Lawless added.

Meanwhile, three Methodist College Belfast pupils have won a political prize for examining whether fake news means the end of facts.

Hala Heenan, Shannon McKeown-Gilmore and Jake Lowry won the Political Studies Association (PSA) Schools Prize.

They wrote, produced and presented a short video examining fake news and its consequences.