Social media platforms are responsible for content, Higgins says

President says ‘we’ve had suicides’ after people fired arrows that ‘destroy lives’

President Michael D Higgins said new technology was being ‘used to abuse people’. Photograph: Maxwells

President Michael D Higgins said new technology was being ‘used to abuse people’. Photograph: Maxwells

 

It is nonsense for social media platforms to claim they do not have responsibility for content on their websites, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy Show on Thursday the President said: “the idea that you can send a message without any consequence, without taking responsibility for how it falls on the life or perceptions of another is absolutely a real challenge in a democratic system.

“How do you deal with this? I think there are real issues about examining how technology and science are delivered in society.

“The idea that you can, at random, fire arrows that can actually destroy lives. We’ve had suicides that have come from this. And the notion therefore that somehow or another, that those who are providing the capacity for this are in some way neutral or in some way don’t have responsibility, is nonsense.

“They are not simply platforms, they are spaces that are set up from which arrows emerge that affect people’s lives therefore that has to happen.”

The President said when he visits schools he mentions the importance of “using the new technology of communications in a way that is of assistance, but I am very well aware that it is being used to abuse people.”

Mr Higgins said he has to watch his own use of technology. “It’s something that I have to watch myself, I find myself looking at news headlines, but I leave it aside now.

“To see people in restaurants, or on formal occasions looking at their phones. They have people each side of them . . . that tells you something about socialability.”

In a wide ranging interview, Mr Higgins also mentioned the attempted exclusion of his predecessor Mary McAleese from a major conference in Rome. The interview with Mr Higgins was recorded on Tuesday prior to the reporting on Mrs McAleese’s comments today.

“As President of Ireland I was deeply concerned at recent exclusions of Mrs McAleese. I think she’s a very, very important person, in speaking of matters of spiritual significance and the right to believe.

“That is one of the most important things that had to happen is removing exclusions, exclusions from discourse, exclusions from thinking. We had our censorship period, I think I might have been regarded as not an appropriate speaker myself at some stage in certain institutions.”