Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Whitewashing your internet profile: political edition

Irish politicians are getting nervous. Although the government still insists it will serve out its full term, insiders are muttering about the possibility of a post-budget snap election. It's no coincidence, therefore, that they are now looking to clean up their online presence and two stories from this week are particularly telling.

First Alan Kinsella, of the invaluable Irish Election Literature website, tweets:

Second, an anonymous user from an Oireachtas IP address attempted a systematic (but ultimately unsuccessful) whitewashing of the Wikipedia entry for Senator Jim Walsh, deleting all reference to various gaffes by him through the years.

There's nothing new about attempts to suppress unfavourable information about Irish politicians - and the current stories are nowhere near the seriousness of the recent incident in which the aide to Derek Keating TD dumped several thousand copies of a local freesheet containing a critical story about his boss. But these examples still raise interesting issues for lawyers. In the case of the Irish Election Literature website - should politicians be able to invoke what would presumably be a copyright argument in order to conceal their past promises? In the case of Wikipedia, should edits made by TDs, Senators or their staff about themselves be disclosed? (Wikipedia certainly thinks so.) More generally, how should Irish law deal with sites such as Politwoops which archive deleted tweets from politicians? Is Twitter correct in saying that politicians should be able to delete their ill thought out tweets without that fact being highlighted - or should we accept that what politicians say is inherently newsworthy?

The Irish courts have yet to confront most of these issues - but it will be interesting to see what happens in an ongoing case brought by a Dublin election candidate who has invoked the "right to be forgotten" against online discussion of his election literature. Hopefully this will result in a judicial statement affirming the strong public interest in political discussion.

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