Westminster Letter

OUR LEGISLATION SHOULD BE UPDATED AND FUTURE-PROOFED FOR THE DIGITAL AGE

 

Amid the calls for either a further referendum on Europe, or a General Election (or both!), one aspect which has been examined recently by the Electoral Reform Society is the urgent need to review our electoral rules. These were last updated in the year 2000.

Social media as we know it today was yet to be developed. Twitter and Facebook did not exist. We are now in the digital age, but our electoral campaign rules remain in the analogue age.

Our democratic processes face considerable threats, such as ‘dark ads’, fake news, foreign interference and the misuse of personal data garnered from our smartphones and computers. The increasing use of online campaigning has revealed many loopholes which can be circumvented perfectly legally. Significantly, the kind of information which is required on every printed leaflet or flyer, is not currently mandatory on digital communications.

I am well aware of the challenges that face our election and referendum rules – and of the remarkable work that is being done to address the threats which unregulated online campaigning can pose.

The Electoral Reform Society report, Reining in the Political ‘Wild West’, for which I wrote the foreword,  brings together voices from regulators to campaigners and academics, to offer solutions and increase transparency in digital campaigning.

Voters should be able to find out what claims campaigners are making and who is making them, or whether contradictory messages are going to different groups. Regulation should not be left to the tech platforms alone.

We must defend the integrity of our democracy and to put the best interests of our democratic community as a whole to the fore. Therefore, we should act quickly to bring electoral rules into the 21st century. Our legislation should be updated and future-proofed for the digital age.

(This article first appeared in the Bucks Free Press)