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Submission to the public consultation on An Coimisiún Toghcháin’s first draft research programme

EDMO Ireland contributed to FuJo’s submission to the public consultation on An Coimisiún Toghcháin’s first draft research programme.

The submission contained the following on electoral interference:

When it comes to protecting Ireland’s democracy and electoral events, combating online electoral interference is of the utmost importance. We note that electoral interference may be interpreted in different ways: as foreign interference and as domestic manipulation or hijacking of the information environment. In some instances, the two kinds of actors may be related.  

The online environment is ever-changing with new platforms, practices, and trends emerging in quick succession. Moreover, Ireland is highly influenced by international trends, which quickly spread here. Therefore, it is essential to treat electoral integrity as an ongoing issue of concern and not simply an issue that emerges in the weeks preceding an electoral event. At a minimum, we suggest it is necessary to maintain an understanding of the dynamics of the online environment at all times. Attention should be given to the appropriate resources – personnel, software, etc. – required for such monitoring during non-election periods and the potential need to upscale during election periods. Furthermore, this monitoring should be done in cooperation with international collaborative networks such as EDMO, the OECD, StratCom, and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. Such cooperation will aid in understanding best practice as well as understanding emerging threats and issues. 

As well as understanding common trends and techniques relating to electoral disinformation, there are critical decisions that An Coimisiún will make in the future, which should be informed by research. For instance, it is prudent to formulate risk assessments and to conduct scenario plans to inform decision making around when content requires action. This preliminary work could provide a framework, which will help guide decisions that may have to be made quickly during an election.