Industry urges enforcement, not new laws
Q Should Government legislate to curb abuse on social media?
An Oireachtas committee’s decision to investigate social media abuse with a view to curbing “vile” content has sent ripples of distress throughout the digital world.
Put simply, it appears unnecessary, given critics are lining up to tell them such rules are already in place; many are simply not aware of them or their application in an increasingly technical age. And to a large degree they are not being implemented.
Others bemoan the potential encroachment on freedom of speech and expression in a year in which the Government will shepherd through eagerly anticipated legislation on data protection from the lofty heights of its EU presidency.
But still, next month the Oireachtas committee on communications will research the issue and report back to Pat Rabbitte on what he might do about it, the issue having come to the fore after the tragic death of minister of state Shane McEntee.
Submissions and expressions of interest will be sought and hearings, private and public, heard. Each element will feed into a potential policy on how we might police this borderless online universe.
Tom Hayes TD, chairman of the committee, says there is a need to hold people accountable, possibly through regulation or even legislation.
But is it really necessary? “They want to be able to hold people to account without realising that they already can,” said Daragh O’Brien, a data protection and information management consultant at Castlebridge Associates.
“In the last couple of years have moved from letter and phone call to email and now to social media. There may be some irresponsible use of social media just as there has been with letters and phone calls over the years.
“The Twitter equivalent in the 1980s was people making abusive comments via a public telephone and there were poison pen letters before that.”
O’Brien pointed to existing legislation to tackle unacceptably invective messages: basic criminal law under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, which covers letters and phonecalls, and the Communication (Retention of Data Act) 2011, which allows gardaí track down IP (computer user) details. That’s not to mention defamation law.
“All social media sites will co-operate with criminal investigations,” he said, adding Government would be better off advising the public of the remedies that exist.
Michael Foley, a lecturer in journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology, is also dubious. “I can quite understand why you would want to find a solution to cyberbullying but I actually don’t think you can find one. I think would have an unacceptable impact on freedom of expression,” he said
The Chinese-style approach of selective prohibition to certain sites is an option, but unlikely in this country to the point of farce. And strict regulations on usage could be defeated in a European court.
Echoing this sentiment, Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications pointed out while “people being hateful” was an issue, “given that Twitter, Facebook and Google are all in Ireland, it is easy for the courts here to have that information handed over”.