Mary McAleese backs ‘reining in’ of social media after Ana Kriégel case

Ex-president says ‘anarchy’ prevails on platforms after images, names of youths shared

Former president Mary McAleese. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Former president Mary McAleese. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

The “reining in” of social media companies is “unfortunately the way to go” after photographs of the two boys convicted this week of murdering schoolgirl Ana Kriégel were published online, former president Mary McAleese has said.

Speaking at Queen’s University in Belfast on Friday, Mrs McAleese cited the “complete nihilism of social media” after the identities of the two 14-year-olds were shared on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Central Criminal Court heard an innocent boy was also named as one of the girl’s killers.

Mrs McAleese spoke of the “anarchy that prevails” on social media and the impact this could have on people’s lives.

“This great phenomenon of the internet has run for so far ahead of what we are capable of reining in and I think that reining in is where we have to go.”

Ms McAleese said social media firms “argue they are only the platform but the courts (in the Republic) have said we will send in the police to close you down...unless you take steps to stop people abusing the platform.

“I think that is unfortunately the way to go.”

A judge at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin on Wednesday ordered representatives of Twitter and Facebook to appear in court for contempt proceedings after it emerged that social media users had identified the 14-year-old boys.

The trial judge had made an order preventing their being named and a provision under the Children Act prohibits the identification of minors accused of or convicted of a criminal offence.

A temporary order against Facebook and Twitter, instructing the companies to remove any material that identifies the boys, was issued by the courts on Wednesday and is to be mentioned again on July 5th. Both companies said they had removed identifying material since the boys were convicted on Tuesday.

Mrs McAleese was speaking at the launch of the Queen’s University management school’s inaugural Mary McAleese diversity lecture.

‘Different story’

In conversation with broadcaster Wendy Austin, Mrs McAleese said she was “pleased to see women on the walls” among the portraits in the university’s great hall.

“I can’t be it if I don’t see it,” she said. “The absence of women on those walls told a story. We want to see a different story.”

Mrs McAleese said when she was called to the bar to practice law in 1974 women were regarded as “odd” if they wanted to pursue this career and that female empowerment was always important to her.

“I think I might have been (an arch-feminist) but I think maybe I just watched too much Perry Mason,” she said.

She spoke of the 1960s in Northern Ireland being characterised by the civil rights movement and then the descent into violence, and decades later of the “phenomenon in the Republic in the 1990s of the reversal of emigration”.

She said the injection of people from other countries to Ireland helped inject “brainpower and dynamism”.

She noted that Northern Ireland was the only region of the UK and Ireland where same sex couples could not marry despite it having the support of a majority of politicians, and polls showing it has public support.

“No matter how long it takes you hang in,” Mrs McAleese said, adding “gay rights are human rights”.