Committee to invite social media firms

 

Representatives of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are to be invited to appear before an Oireachtas committee investigating abuses of social media.

The Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications today decided to invite the service providers to “hear their views” on social media and on “public concerns” about it, Labour TD Sean Kenny said after the private meeting.

The committee today agreed to "explore, over a series of hearings, how the irresponsible use of social media channels might be curbed", an Oireachtas source said.

Its consideration of the area was "not about politicians" but was " an exercise which is intent on exploring how the rights of ordinary citizens can be upheld on social media outlets," the source said.

Before beginning public meetings it is be appropriate to "assess the existing protections for citizens around social media", the source said.

Among the elements it will explore are the channels, legal or otherwise, which "currently exist to provide an ordinary member of the public who has been a victim of inappropriate use of social media with an opportunity for redress". It will also look at misuse of social media in other jurisdictions.

The committee will host a series of public meetings in February. At this point it will consider a public consultation and may use  a number of social media channels to receive submissions to get a wide range of view points.

The meeting today decided the committee’s work programme in the coming weeks and decided to invite data protection and other legal representatives to hear their views on abuses of social media, Mr Kenny said.

The committee decided last month to begin the investigation and it will compile a report to present to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte in the coming months.

Among the matters it will look into are cyberbullying and abusive remarks on social media.

The issue was highlighted at the funeral on Christmas Eve of minister of state for agriculture Shane McEntee, who took his own life. Gerry McEntee referred to the “flak” his late brother had endured through social media.

One written submission sent to the committee is from Labour councillor and barrister Richard Humphreys.

Mr Humphreys writes that “a small minority of the online population view the internet as a place where anything goes” but this was an attitude which “that fundamentally undermines the rights of citizens”.

Mr Humphreys said in the State “law and practice” has “lagged significantly behind the problem”.

Some form of “administrative redress” rather than court proceedings was “the only way to meaningfully vindicate the rights of the citizen”, he said. He suggested “significantly enhanced powers” for the Data Protection Commissioner as one option for abuse on the internet.

The defamation act was “predicated on the assumption that significant publishers should be traceable” but “this policy breaks down completely when one moves to the online world”.

While it cost a harasser “nothing” to post anonymous comments online it could be “be extremely expensive and difficult for a plaintiff to ascertain the identity of the appropriate defendant, let alone obtain a judgment, enforce it and recover costs”, he said.

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