Fine Gael Seanad leader Senator Regina Doherty has highlighted the failure of social media giants to tackle online abuse after she reported a man who used foul language on Twitter and was told he had broken no rules.
Ms Doherty cited the incident as she backed calls by Fianna Fáil Senator Shane Cassells for the Online Safety Bill to be brought forward to tackle racism on social media. This follows the abuse suffered by three England players following the side's Euro 2020 loss in the penalty shootout during Sunday night's final against a triumphant Italy.
Mr Cassells said the social media racial abuse suffered by Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, happens to sports players in Ireland too all the time.
“We’ve seen incidents where young black men playing GAA and soccer have been the subject of online abuse and abuse in the stands.”
He said a great tournament was “sullied” by the racial abuse of the three men over missing penalties and “targeted at them because of the colour of their skin”. And he recalled the case in February where a teenager in Kerry was prosecuted for racial abuse of former English footballer Ian Wright “and was very lucky to escape conviction”.
He said it was essential to tackle such abuse. And he called for the Online Safety Bill, under prelegislative scrutiny, to be brought forward and Twitter and Facebook made to deal with this.
The Meath Senator said there had to be international co-operation at Government level to deal with the issue but Ireland could “send out a strong message that this is not acceptable” by passing the Bill, making social media giants like Twitter and Facebook deal with it and in this way “stopping the hate that happens to so many of our sporting stars”.
Ms Doherty agreed the Bill had to be taken “by the scruff of the neck” and said that what happened to the three England players was abhorrent.The Fine Gael Senator criticised comments by a Conservative MP who posted on a Conservative WhatsApp group that Rashford “should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics”.
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke has since apologised to the England footballer who has campaigned to ensure poor children receive free school meals and has launched a book club to encourage them to read more.
Ms Doherty said what Rashford had done “for the last year will leave a legacy for generations to come”.
Ms Doherty outlined her own recent experience with social media.
“This is not to make this about me but I reported a gentleman who called me the C word . . . on Saturday . . . because it happens quite often. And if you were to do it all the time you’d be blue in the face. And I got the lovely response back that he hasn’t broken any of their rules. Well if he hasn’t broken your rules then your rules needs to be changed. It’s unacceptable that we have such a level of discourse”, that is now just taken for granted.