Fair Play Pledge: Reformed online campaigning rules for elections

Fair Play Pledge

Conscious that toxic online campaign tactics – such as disinformation and racist and sexist attacks – had undermined electoral processes in other countries, Irish academics and election reform advocates campaigned for digital campaign election integrity ahead of the Irish General Election in 2020.

Digital Action helped them create the Fair Play Pledge, an open letter to Irish political parties, asking them to sign up to campaign honestly and openly, respect the dignity of others and not undermine campaign finance rules. As a result of the campaign, almost all political parties committed to “play fair” online and to reform online campaigning when in power.

Why was the campaign needed?

In 2020, Ireland’s electoral laws provided common rules to deliver free and fair elections but they had not kept pace with changes in modern political campaigning. The existing regulatory framework did not cover much of the digital world, where toxic tactics that would be not permitted or indeed possible offline have undermined electoral processes in other countries.

“Currently there are no rules for online political advertising and there’s this gaping hole here we’re trying to address.”

Dr Eileen Culloty

How did we build the campaign?

We worked behind-the-scenes with academics, political scientists and election reformists to set out an open letter and articulate a set of four commitments which included:

  • Campaigning honestly and openly: not deploying tactics of deception: or the spread of information known to be false, or the use of fake profiles, mimicry, impersonation or “reskinning” social media profiles with the intent of misleading the public, or the use of falsified or distorted images or video, smearing opponents or discouraging voter engagement.
  • Respecting the dignity of others: working to counter intimidation: the harassment of candidates, supporters and campaigners; and the use of incitement to hatred (as currently defined in Irish law) by candidates or their proxies to stoke division.
  • Financial fair play: not undermining campaign finance rules on donations and spending limits through tactics designed to avoid inclusion in social media advertising transparency tools, or through misuse of online fundraising platforms.
  • Championing election integrity in the new Dáil: Committing to safeguarding our democracy by prioritising electoral reform in the new Dail by working on a cross-party basis to establish an Electoral Commission, bringing in electoral rules fit for purpose in the digital age.

We also hosted a hackathon with journalists and technologists to examine what misuse looks like and explored solutions for trust and verification.

Fair Play Pledge commitments

Who was involved

The Fair Play Pledge was endorsed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Transparency International Ireland and the Dublin City University (DCU) Institute for Future Media and Journalism, FuJo. It was supported by political scientists Dr Theresa Reidy (University College Cork) and Prof David Farrell (University College Dublin), FuJo director Dr Jane Suiter, and Dr Eileen Culloty, who leads research on countering disinformation as part of the Horizon 2020 project Provenance.

Political parties who committed to the pledge included Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Green Party, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit, UnitedPeople and independent candidate Catherine Connolly.

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