Twitter defends how it deals with harmful content after abuse of mixed-race couple

‘We have very robust policies in place ... around abusive behaviour and hateful conduct and violent threats’, committee told

Fiona Ryan  and her finance Jonathan Mathis left the country with their young son   recently after experiencing online abuse following their participation in an advertising campaign for Lidl supermarket.  Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Fiona Ryan and her finance Jonathan Mathis left the country with their young son recently after experiencing online abuse following their participation in an advertising campaign for Lidl supermarket. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Twitter has defended how it deals with harmful content after a mixed-race Co Meath couple left Ireland following a death threat and abusive and racist comments online.

Fiona Ryan (33) and her finance Jonathan Mathis (32) left with their son (22 months) recently after experiencing online abuse following their participation in an advertising campaign for Lidl supermarket.

On September 7th, former newspaper journalist Gemma O’Doherty tweeted the advert, with the comment: “German dump @lidl_ireland gaslighting the Irish people with their multicultural version of ‘The Ryans’. Kidding no-one! Resist the Great Replacement wherever you can by giving this kip a wide berth. #ShopIrish #BuyIrish.”

Several people replied to the tweet - some supporting the family but others made racist and insulting comments towards them.

Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers raised the case of Ms Ryan and Mr Mathis before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on Wednesday, which was hearing from social media companies on their plans to tackle online harassment and harmful communications.

“They had death threats, they had racist abuse, they made complaints to gardaí and they were subjected to shocking commentary online,” the Dublin West TD said.

Karen White, Director of Public Policy for Twitter in Europe said: “I’d sympathise with anyone who has been subjected to targeted abuse or harassment or indeed violent threats, whether it’s online or offline. I think it’s absolutely abhorrent and it’s unacceptable.

“Whilst I can’t speak to the individual circumstances of any particular account or pieces of content on the service, I do want to reassure this committee that we have very robust policies in place at Twitter, particularly around abusive behaviour and hateful conduct and violent threats.”

Ms White said there are “a range of enforcement actions” Twitter can take in relation to harmful content, including asking the user to delete the content in question. She said such actions were to “educate people and bring them back into compliance”.

‘Societal issue’

Mr Chambers asked Ms White if deleting a racist tweet was sufficient in terms of enforcement adding a “simple deletion” of a tweet is a “really weak enforcement consequence”.

Ms White said consistent rule violations would lead to suspension and violent threats could lead to the permanent suspension of an account.

“If law enforcement were to trigger an investigation on the back of behaviour like that, then we can work with them as part of their investigation,” she said.

Ms White said the behaviour the Dublin West TD was raising is part of a “wider societal issue that needs to be addressed”. She said a “multi-pronged approach” of which counter-speech would be a part of, is needed.

Dualta Ó Broin, Head of Public Policy at Facebook Ireland said it removed 5.4 million pieces of child sexual abuse material across the globe in the first quarter of this year.

Mr Ó Broin, Head of Public Policy at Facebook Ireland Broin also said the social media platform is “doing everything we can” to learn from the live streaming of the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand to ensure “it can never happen again”.

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy said social media companies should be considered as publishers and therefore have the same liability of publishers such as newspapers.

“I think the principle under which you operate is wrong,” he said.

“I think as an industry you’ve pulled off an amazing trick over many decades which has enriched you and your share holders to a vast level and the cost is too great,” he added.