The electoral commission, disinformation and freedom of expression

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Ethan Shattock

Keywords

electoral commission, disinformation, human rights, freedom of expression

Abstract

This commentary examines how the prospective electoral commission could play a role in combatting disinformation in the run-up to Irish elections. While legislative debates have pointed to the potential role of the commission in protecting elections from anti-democratic actors who disseminate false electoral claims, no clear mandate has detailed how this could manifest. This ambiguity is exacerbated by Ireland’s electoral statutory framework, which has struggled to adapt to the challenging digital realities of contemporary electoral engagement. While the emergence of disinformation and related digital exigencies represents a potential for regulatory scrutiny, this must be considered alongside Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 40.6.1 of the Irish Constitution, both of which protect the right to freedom of expression. In positing how the new commission could counter electoral disinformation, a natural starting point is to probe how such functions are shaped and limited by this fundamental right. Moreover, the reluctance of the Irish judiciary and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to accept regulatory interference with political expression means that restrictions on the dissemination of information in the run-up to elections must be treated with delicacy when shaping the commission’s potential functions in this critical area.

Abstract 185 | NILQ 71.4.10 Shattock Downloads 9