Politicians: try using social media before you start legislating for it
Jerry Buttimer is one of the exceptions among those who have spoken out about this issue: he is active on both Twitter and Facebook. Mary Mitchell O’Connor also maintains a regular presence on Facebook. But many of the rest of the Fine Gael party follow the tone set by leader Enda Kenny, who hasn’t updated his Twitter account in 18 months.
Likewise, there are a handful of Labour politicians active on social media; Pat Rabbitte is not among them.
As a result, many politicians appear to have a poor understanding of the internet, referring to “online commentary” as though it were a coherent and deeply suspicious entity – an approach that makes as much sense as lumping all tabloid newspapers, Morning Ireland, The Irish Times and, say,TV3’s Tallafornia together as some kind of single, malicious mouthpiece.
This air of suspicion reached fever pitch at the weekend, when Rabbitte, along with Tom Hayes, took to the media to complain about “deplorable” and “offensive” images featuring Senator Ronan Mullen, which had been posted to Twitter. One of the images featured the senator’s head on the body of a man wearing nothing but a swimsuit and a large crucifix; the other showed his head superimposed on the body of a baby Jesus.
Silly? Yes. Funny? That’s debatable. Deplorable? Probably no more so than much mainstream radio or TV satire.
People should not be free to incite hatred or to libel others at will online – but there are already laws governing that. Earlier this week, a blogger apologised on Twitter to Libertas’s Declan Ganley over tweets he had made, and made a donation to charity in what was believed to be the first legal settlement in the state involved Twitter content.
So unless our politicians are intent on outlawing satire, it’s hard to see why they think we need tighter regulation. Malicious commentary makes the internet a less pleasant place for everyone, but I don’t believe we need legislation to deal with it.
In her calls for action “to tackle the destructive power of social media”, Mary Mitchell O’Connor cited a YouTube video that went viral last weekend, showing an Irish schoolgirl in an angry and excitable state having a late-night argument with a guy in a pizza joint. Frankly, I thought it made a better argument for why we don’t need legislation.
Yes, the video, and some of the commentary to which the girl was subjected, were cruel, exploitative and, I’m sure, deeply distressing for her and her family. But by the time I came across the story later that day, the YouTube video had been taken down, and most of the tweets and Facebook posts linking to it had been deleted by people who said they had no idea how young the girl was when they first posted it.