Twitter is to lay down a direct challenge to the Government's legislation on online safety with a robust attack on its proposals to impose financial sanctions, block services and make senior management of companies criminally responsible for breaches of the law.
In its opening statement to a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, the social media giant will argue that several of the sanctions, as envisaged, would set a "global benchmark" that will have a chilling effect in other regions of the world.
“We contend that several of the sanctions as currently envisaged create an unhelpful international precedent: specifically the extent of proposed financial sanctions, the provision for service blocking, and the criminal liability of senior management,” it states.
It will be the second appearance for Twitter and for Facebook before the committee in the past month. At the last meeting, Twitter and Facebook (especially the former) were lambasted by committee members for allowing anonymous accounts, for trolling, and for abusive content.
The Twitter statement is sure to put the company on a collision course with several members of the committee, especially following the controversy surrounding the anonymous account associated with former Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris.
“Already we see countries imposing punitive financial penalties or make the business environment difficult for platforms with unwelcome positions on freedom of expression,” the opening statement argued.
“Service throttling and blocking is used to limit citizen access to news, information and minority or opposition perspectives. And non-compliance will be met with custodial threat for company employees,” it said.
It has also contended that some sanctions as set out would be an “existential concern” for smaller companies.
‘Exported across the world’
It warns the EU and the Government to “mindful that the regulatory models and penalties they enact will be exported across the world to service political agendas of all kinds”.
Twitter has argued its anonymous accounts protect human rights activists and whistleblowers in regions around the world where there are dictatorial regimes that suppress freedom of speech. However, committee members at the last meeting argued it was not right for Twitter to use this as a blanket defence to defend allowing anonymous accounts used for the purposes of trolling or publishing abusive content.
The Twitter opening statement also cautioned against Ireland moving ahead of the EU in terms of regulation, saying it should delay the enactment of provisions that overlapped with the Digital Services Act.
It also said Twitter had been working to promote healthy conversations online, with advanced “machine learning” now filtering 68 per cent of all questionable content. It said 12 million accounts had been challenged globally.
Elsewhere, Facebook Ireland will defend its record in policing its own network. “The idea that it is in our interest to allow harmful content on our platform is categorically untrue,” head of public policy at Facebook Ireland Dualta Ó Broin will tell the committee. He will argue that people will not share content on an unsafe platform and advertisers will not want their brands associated with harmful content.
Mr Ó Broin, who worked as a civil servant in the Department of Communications before joining the social networking giant, will point to recent features such as a comment filter on the Facebook-owned Instagram platform which redirects abusive messages so people do not have to see them.
He will say the “rapid establishment” of an appropriately resourced regulator is “of crucial importance” for a variety of reasons, including that EU law is implemented.
Mr Ó Broin will tell the committee that a regulator is also needed “to provide the research and evidence base for decisions to be taken by policy makers and legislators in Ireland into the future”.