Tuesday 16 July 2019

Government is 'kicking to touch' on digital transparency bill: Lawless

James Lawless TD Picture: Tom Burke
James Lawless TD Picture: Tom Burke

Allison Bray

The Government is merely paying lip service when it comes to regulating social media, claims the architect of a Bill that would clamp down on orchestrated online manipulation and political interference.

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless says the Government may talk tough about regulating social media giants like Facebook, but in reality is just kicking the issue to touch.

Writing in today's Irish Independent, he says: "Fear, uncertainty and doubt is the new weapon of mass destruction and the internet lends itself exceptionally well."

The Kildare North TD warns: "Just like President Trump, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Government also seem to think that 'fake news' is a problem for someone else to deal with."

Mr Lawless introduced the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 in December, 2017.

"For reasons best known to themselves the Government opposed it," he writes, warning that a new cross-departmental group to investigate the threats posed from internet activity fails to "grasp the nettle".

But revelations on Channel 4's 'Dispatches' programme this week "provided further evidence that self-regulation cannot be enough," Mr Lawless said.

The programme showed that "content moderators" working for Facebook in Dublin failed to remove some images of child abuse, self-mutilation and hate speech despite complaints.

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Denis Naughten is to meet with senior officials from Facebook on Monday to discuss what action, if any, the multinational is taking following the 'Dispatches' revelations.

He tweeted that he was "appalled and disgusted" by the revelations. He also held an hour-long meeting with Facebook's head of public policy Niamh Sweeney in New York on Thursday.

He said that "reviews and refreshers" were not good enough for real change.

In the meantime, the Government is "working with" the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill 2017, he added. The Bill, tabled by Sinn Féin, proposes the establishment of a Digital Safety Commissioner and has passed the second stage in the Dail.

Irish Independent

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