Varadkar wrote to social media giants on illegal pandemic gatherings

Tánaiste said events ‘clearly planned’ using platforms and asked companies to do more

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar sent letters to Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok following violent protests in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: iStock

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar sent letters to Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok following violent protests in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: iStock

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar wrote to four of the world’s biggest technology companies asking them what more they could to tackle illegal gatherings and the spread of misinformation during the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar sent letters to Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok in the wake of violent protests on the streets of Dublin earlier this year.

He said the events were “clearly planned” using social media platforms and private messaging services and that he had been “appalled” by what had happened.

The Tánaiste said that this behaviour by a “selfish few” had undermined the sacrifices that millions of Irish people had made over the previous year.

He said he was a “strong believer in freedom of speech” but that this was a well-organised “conglomeration of anti-mask, anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown groups” using technology to organise themselves.

In responses to the Tánaiste, Facebook said it too was “appalled” by the violence and that it deeply appreciated the efforts of gardaí, healthcare workers and other frontline workers.

The social-media giant said an internal investigation had taken place after the protest, leading to the removal of 20 Facebook groups, 15 pages and two Instagram profiles.

This was done where groups, pages or profiles had “repeatedly shared harmful information and debunked claims about Covid-19 or vaccines”, its letter said.

In a response letter, Google said it took the issues in the Tánaiste’s letter “very seriously”.

However, it said that its services were not “currently known for being favoured” for the running of illegal protests or events in Ireland.

It said: “We have not been notified that our services were used for the purpose of organising the recent protests in Dublin.”

Google also said it was committed to removing content and Covid-19 misinformation that posed harm to users from its platforms.

The company also offered to run a discussion and workshop for the Tánaiste and his team on how its manages harmful content.

‘Takedown’ measures

In the Tánaiste’s letter, the creation of a new online safety commissioner was also flagged to reduce the “spread of illegal and potentially harmful content”.

Mr Varadkar said the Government wanted ‘takedown’ measures that were timely and effective and a way to add further categories of harmful content.

In response to that, Facebook said it was concerned by delays in the passage of legislation governing online activity and possible “conflict” with European Union directives.

Facebook said the Government should consider prioritising and expediting the implementation of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

And they also suggested that the Government should consider “pausing the national online safety measures” to ensure both Irish and EU law were aligned.

Google said it was supportive of the legislation and that it was continuing to engage with government to help progress it.

It said: “Getting this legislation right will be crucial to addressing harmful online content into the future and we look forward to [its] speedy adoption.”

Asked to comment on their records, a spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media was now leading on new online safety laws and queries should be directed to it.