Trinity College Dublin Student Union’s (TCDSU) Electoral Commission has condemned the spread of misinformation about the referendum on the future of The University Times.
In an email statement to The University Times, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Stephen Sheil, said: “It has been brought to our attention that there has been a circulation of false statements in regard to the Referenda. While this is out of our control we would wish to remind all students of the college’s Dignity and Respect Policy.”
This statement came in response to reports of a number of misleading messages circulating on WhatsApp over the last few days. The widely spread message states, falsely, that the referendum will put The University Times’s funding on par with Trinity News. However, in 2017, for example, Trinity News received almost €20,000 in funding for print including its sister publication TN2, and the Editor receives either on-campus accommodation funded by Trinity Publications or a monthly stipend. If the referendum passes, The University Times will receive just €3,000 per year.
A statement published on the Save UT. Vote No campaign page said: “We have been made aware of a number of cynical, misleading messages circulating within WhatsApp groups in relation to this referendum. These messages contain a huge number of false claims about UT and are clearly designed to manipulate the results of the vote.”
“We live in an age when false information can spread incredibly quickly. This can influence public opinion and by extension a democratic vote. Everyone knows the role played by falsehoods and online lies in recent elections and referendums around the world. It is exceptionally concerning that these trends are now beginning to appear in Trinity. We urge you to make your decision based on accurate information, rather than malicious falsehoods”, the statement read.
The message also falsely states that the Junior Dean has finished the investigation into the Knights of the Campanile’s initiation ceremony, finding no evidence of hazing. The Junior Dean failed to request evidence from The University Times’s reporters and has yet to listen to the recording of the evening in question. The decision to close the investigation is being appealed.
The message speaks about legal opinions on The University Times’s reporting of the Knights of the Campanile’s hazing, falsely stating that there had been “overwhelming legal advice” that found that the paper had acted illegally. The campaign responded to such claims in its statement, saying: “Significant debate exists among legal experts on the issue. Not only did former Attorney General Michael McDowell say that the arguments of the Trinity law professors would not stand up in court, but so did Andrea Martin, an internationally renowned media lawyer.”
The Student Conduct and Capacity Committee, one of the College’s most important disciplinary committees, will now consider this appeal and hold a full hearing.
Voting in the referendum on the future of The University Times closes today at 5pm. The vote is being held alongside the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) elections and another referendum on shortening the term of the TCDSU Entertainments Officer.