Twitter keen to protect anonymity

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that social media had the power to be both 'profoundly transformative' and 'fundamentally disruptive'.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte told an Oireachtas committee yesterday that social media had the power to be both 'profoundly transformative' and 'fundamentally disruptive'.

 

Twitter’s policy director for Europe has told an Oireachtas committee investigating cyber-bullying that the company understands concerns about the posting of unidentifiable abuse on the platform but it regarded anonymity as of "fundamental value".

Speaking before the committee this morning, Sineád McSweeney said: "We see anonymity as giving people who would not otherwise have a voice to be part of discussion, to be part of debates, and maybe to be part of a world that is not generally open to them."

Asked whether Twitter could identify users for law enforcement agencies, Ms McSweeney confirmed the website did not "require people to provide their real names at any stage of the process".

She said Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte and his department were best placed to say whether there was a gap in legislation, but the company had rules controlling the platform. She agreed these procedures were not universally known, and admitted Twitter had some work to do in better educating users that "there are limitations on content".

In relation to online bullying, she said: "My advice to parents is to recognise that they have to understand the tools and channels that their children are using." There were procedures for reporting and removing offensive content, she stressed.

She said Twitter co-operated with law enforcement agencies if there was a criminal offence, while people had recourse to the courts in civil matters. However, she said tackling such issues had to balanced with "our commitment to the privacy of our users".

Facebook’s director of policy for UK and Ireland Simon Milner later told the committee it had a different approach to anonymity in that "the real identity principle goes right across the site".

There were various ways in which users could control what they posted on the site, and who could read it, as well as procedures for pursuing a complaint, he added.

Patricia Cartes, Facebook’s European safety director, said minors were prioritised when it came to such complaints and they were met with shorter response times.

However, as with the Twitter representative, Ms Cartes was unable to detail precisely how long it took to deal with complaints.

She said the company’s emphasis on "real identity" meant it was easier to locate fake accounts, while also encouraging more responsible behaviour, as users knew "they are more likely to be accountable for their actions".

The committee agreed to an invitation from Facebook to visit its European headquarters in Dublin before the completion of its report on cyber-bullying and online harassment.

It adjourned before lunchtime today for a final hearing on the issue next Wednesday.

Speaking before the committee yesterday, Mr Rabbitte said there "may be a gap" in legislation in Ireland governing social media. Mr Rabbitte said social media had the power to be “profoundly transformative” and “fundamentally disruptive” to existing patterns of debate, political discourse and media but it also brought legal, social and personal challenges.

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