'May be gap' in social media law - Rabbitte


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

He was speaking at a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications meeting that will over four days discuss abuse of social media and cyberbullying.

Mr Rabbitte said social media had the power to be “profoundly transformative” and “fundamentally disruptive” to existing patterns of debate, political discourse and media. He said democracy had always evolved with technology, with social media now providing citizens with new tools to engage with politics, and vice versa.


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

“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.

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.”

Committee member Sinn Féin TD for Sligo Leitrim Michael Colreavy said he was aware of three suicides among young people where cyberbullying played “a contributory part” in their deaths.

Mr Rabbitte said while we had to do “everything we can” to protect children, “bullying didn’t come in with the internet”. He said it had been there since “the felt pen on the back of the toilet door”.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said parents were “tearing their hair out” over social media abuses. She said the internet didn’t invent bullying but had “worsened and quickened” it.

Legislative gap

Responding, Mr Rabbitte said “there may be a gap” in legislation. While the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007 dealt with telephone contact causing “needless anxiety”, he said “electronic communications infrastructure was not covered”.

“There is no specific mechanism available to gardaí or the courts to deal with the type of difficulties we have seen.”

He said some people had also yet to fully appreciate that “defamation and harassment laws apply online in just the same way as they do offline”.

He wasn’t happy with the “take-down” policy of some social media companies.

He said that some people found it difficult to find anyone in those companies who would “admit to having responsibility”.

Media spotlight: Directors face committee

Twitter’s director of public policy for Europe, Sinead McSweeney, and Facebook’s policy director for the UK and Ireland, Simon Milner, come before the committee this morning.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Fine Gael TD for Tipperary South Tom Hayes says the meetings are about “how the irresponsible use of social media channels might be curbed”. He said he wished to emphasise the committee’s consideration of the area was “not about politicians”. He said the meetings reflected “increasing public concern”. JOANNE HUNT