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Spread of 'Fake News' Could Affect Irish Elections, says Gov Report

A high-level government report has found that Irish elections are exposed to interference through cyber-attacks and the spread of "fake news". Reported by the Sunday Independent this weekend, the unpublished report found that social media and search engines were most at risk of being used to influence the outcome of the country's elections. 

The report was compiled by the Interdepartmental Group on the Security of Ireland's Electoral Process and Disinformation. It consulted a wide range of officials and examined the experience of governments in other countries before drafting the report. 

Within it, there was found to be a low-level risk of election interference when votes were being counted, as well as being adversely impacted through either broadcast or print media.

"Overall, the assessment finds that risks to the electoral process in Ireland are relatively low, taking into account factors already in place," the report states. "It is recognized, however, that the spread of disinformation and the risk of cyber-attacks on the electoral system pose more substantial risks."

However, a 2018 study conducted by MIT found that fake news reached more people, penetrated deeper into social networks and spread much faster than accurate stories. Statistically, a false story reaches 1500 people six-times quicker, on average, than a true story does. 

Speaking to The Atlantic in March 2018, Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist who led the study, said: "It seems to be pretty clear that false information outperforms true information, and it that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature." 

The expert group, which is led by the Department of Taoiseach, was established following the publication of Fianna Fail TD for Kildare North James Lawless's Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill in 2017. It aims to introduce laws which would prevent organizations in other countries from paying for online political advertising in Ireland, similar to what was seen in the 2016 US presidential elections. 

Those found guilty of the crime could be fined up to €10,000 or imprisoned for five years, and would also make it a criminal offence to knowingly spread fake news online. 

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