A Government WhatsApp chat group discussing Brexit has been released to RTÉ under the Freedom of Information Act.
Freedom of information
In 1997, Ireland passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). In short, the FOI allows the public, including the media, to request Government documents. Using this act, RTÉ gained access to a WhatsApp group conversation discussing the Brexit vote. The conversation was taking place as news of the UK’s vote to leave the EU was breaking. Names of those taking part in the chat have been removed, though poorly in some parts.
The names of those taking part in the chat have been removed, though poorly in some parts. It’s been confirmed that the conversation involved the press and communications teams from the Government and state agencies.
The WhatsApp group
Feargal Purcell, the Government Press Secretary, started the WhatsApp group as the result of the Brexit vote began to emerge. Kicking things off at 5.48am, the purpose of the group was to control the media reaction to the shock vote. The members of the group scanned social media for interesting and potentially harmful content. One such tweet emerged from Gerard Howlin, a former Fine Fail adviser.
— Gerard Howlin (@GerardHowlin) June 24, 2016
The tweet was flagged by a member of the group as having the potential to “develop as a theme”.
Why is this significant?
We’re not becoming a political site, don’t worry. We’re very much interested in the fact that this involved WhatsApp. This is the first time that WhatsApp messages have been requested and supplied under FOI. Of course, WhatsApp is an encrypted messaging service, so it’s a fairly secure place for chats like this to happen. With that said, just this week, the integrity of WhatsApp has come under the microscope. Perhaps, WhatsApp won’t be the service of choice in future.
On the flip side, it shows the benefits of group messaging services. Ireland’s exposure to the news of Brexit was largely controlled from within this WhatsApp group. One member of the Government WhatsApp chat even said the messaging platform “worked out great”.