The social media platform X, along with its owner Elon Musk, has been strongly criticised by an Oireachtas committee after it refused to answer questions from public representatives on its role in the spread of harmful online posts.
The platform, until recently known as Twitter, cited ongoing legal proceedings as the reason it could not appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media on Wednesday to face questioning about its response the spread of disinformation and hate speech during the riots in Dublin on November 23rd.
False information and calls for violence proliferated on the platform before and during the violence. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said X did not engage with requests from gardaí to take down “vile” social media posts. However, X has claimed gardaí did not “formally” engage with it until several days after the riots.
The absence of representatives from X was criticised by most committee members as they met to discuss online media literacy. Representatives of Google, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, attended.
Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan said it was an “absolute disgrace” that X had refused to appear. Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon said the company is obviously not happy to have it systems “scrutinised in the public domain”.
He also suggested that X staff watching the proceedings “drop an email” to Mr Musk “to suggest he desists from commenting on affairs within Ireland which he patently knows nothing about”.
Mr Cannon said the billionaire “personally served to stoke up hatred and conflict in recent times here in Ireland and he should be deeply ashamed of those actions”.
Mr Musk has posted about Ireland several times in recent weeks on issues such as immigration, the Government’s Hate Crime Bill and his support for MMA fighter Conor McGregor running for president.
In one tweet, he claimed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “hates Irish people”, a comment which drew criticism from Government and Opposition members.
In correspondence with the committee, X said it is willing to respond queries by letter or during private session, which Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said “is not good enough”. The committee agreed to Ms Munster’s proposal that it should seek more information from X on the “legal reasons” which precluded its attendance.
The company is involved in a number of legal actions in the Irish High Court, but none which would prevent it from appearing at an Oireachtas committee. It did not reply to requests for comment from The Irish Times on Wednesday.
Susan Moss, head of public policy for TikTok Ireland, said the platform took down 25 false claims on the day of the Dublin riots, including that the Army was being deployed in the city centre.
Ryan Meade, Google’s government affairs and public policy manager in Ireland, told the committee his company, which owns YouTube, focuses not just on tackling harmful content, but also on prioritising “high-quality news” from authoritative sources.
“We are committed to fighting the spread of misinformation online because helping people sort facts from fiction has never been more important, something we saw most recently during the disturbing events in Dublin,” he said.
Meta said it has removed almost 1,000 pieces of false information in Ireland so far this year. It has also applied labels warning of misleading information to 1.1 million pieces of Facebook content originating from Ireland to date this year, the company’s head of public policy, Dualta Ó Broin, said.