'Legislation gap' on social media

The Minister for Communications has said 'there may be a gap' in legislation in Ireland governing social media.

The Minister for Communications has said 'there may be a gap' in legislation in Ireland governing social media.

Wed, Mar 6, 2013, 00:00

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said “there may be a gap” in legislation in Ireland governing social media.

He was speaking at a social media and governance meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications this morning.

The Minister said social media had the power to be “profoundly transformative” and “fundamentally disruptive” to existing patterns of debate, political discourse and to existing media. He said democracy had always evolved and changed along with technology and social media now provided citizens with a new set of tools to engage with politics, and vice versa.

He said while this should be welcomed and embraced, it also brought challenges across the legal, social and personal spectrum.

“The same power that allows information to be shared in a free and open way also confers the ability to abuse, bully and harass others, sometimes with the benefit of anonymity,” he said.

He said some people had yet to fully appreciate that public messages on social media had the same legal character as if they were published in a newspaper – “defamation and harassment laws apply online in just the same way as they do offline”.

There had been experiences all over the world where people had been insulted and bullied using these media, he said. “And as we know, we have had extremely unfortunate incidents here along similar lines.”

He said responsibility for measures to deal with harassment and abuse online sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, in much the same way as that department deals with those issues in the offline world.

He said while the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007 dealt with the use of the telephone system to send grossly offensive, or indecent, obscene or menacing messages, “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another person”, the law did not extend to social media.

“There appears to be a gap in the legislation” relating to electronic communications infrastructure, he said.

"There is no specific mechanism available to the gardaí or the courts to deal with the type of difficulties we have seen. My Department is presently considering ways of addressing any such issue.”

Representatives from social media companies Twitter and Facebook will appear before the committee tomorrow.

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