FF accuse FG of using the Government's comms unit for party political uses

By Elaine Loughlin, political reporter

Fianna Fáil have accused Fine Gael of abusing the controversial Strategic Communications Unit for their own political advertising and are bringing forward measures to block this.

A Fianna Fáil Bill, due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow, also aims to tackle the increase of phoney online bots by banning multiple twitter accounts.

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who is bringing forward the Social Media and Online Advertising (Transparency) Bill 2017, said the measures will combat "deliberate online deception for political purposes".

He hit out at Government's use of the Strategic Communications Unit, claiming it had been already used for political purposes and not simply as an government information service. Under the Bill this would be banned.

Mr Lawless said: "We have seen a lot of promotion of individual ministers, I have a question mark about why some ministers are being put forward rather than others…We haven't yet seen any Independent Ministers featuring in the adverts which I think is interesting.

"Personally I do think they skirt into political advertising, so under this Bill they would be blocked."

On the issue of online bots and those operating multiple accounts, Mr Lawless said: "If someone is running multiple accounts - we have set the figure at 25 (though) the figure can be debated (and) revised at Committee stage - I can see no good reason why any normal individual would want to run 25 or more deliberate fake accounts, run by software and presented in such a way as to pretend to the user that they are actually separate unique accounts.

"This is about deception," he said.

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