Saturday 14 December 2019

Justice Minister calls for 'robust laws' in tackling social media abuse

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Tom Burke
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Photo: Tom Burke

Alan O'Keeffe

Hatred and incitement to violence on social media must be countered by governments, internet service providers, and major tech companies working together, said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald today.

"This partnership will be crucial to our efforts to create a safer online environment," said the minister.

"It is our young people and the most vulnerable in societies that are most susceptible to those preaching hatred and violent radicalisation," she said.

The minister spoke about the problem of hatred and extreme views on social media in an address to the Dublin City University Conference on Violent Online Political Extremism.

The university is a member of a the VOX-Pol network of nine colleges worldwide involved in a five-year partnership to research and examine online extremism.

The minister said later the Law Reform Commission was examining ways of tackling cyber-crime which will result in new laws.

Asked about threats  made to people on social media, she said while free speech must be defended,   "threats to people's lives have to be taken seriously, threats to rape have to be taken seriously...We need robust laws in relation to online abuse which will develop in Ireland."

The new Sexual Offences Bill deals "thoroughly" with making it a criminal offence to use the internet to groom children for sexual exploitation, she said.

"Our laws have to be updated continually to deal with crime online. We've a lot more to do with voluntary cooperation with internet companies," said the minister.

Those companies have been willing to respond "where there are real dangers and where there is a real threat but there are obviously grey areas and that's where we run into difficulties," she said.

"But in terms of harassment of children online and child exploitation, the new Sexual Offence Bill deals with that very thoroughly...That provides protection for children being groomed online because we have a lot of children being groomed online," she said.

In terms of violent Islamic extremism, she said Irish residents were "not immune" from radicalisation.

She said a "small number" of Irish residents have travelled abroad as foreign fighters and had been killed.

"Irish people are not immune from being part of this challenge that the world faces in relation to terrorist fighters and, indeed, returnees.

"Clearly, we have less numbers than many countries. It's a low number but we're certainly not immune from the issue of radicalisation and people who have been radicalised and willing to become foreign fighters.

"The gardai and security forces watch it very carefully and, if security issues arise, they work to ensure that any further crimes can be prevented.

"I believe integration policy is important and reaching out to minority communities," she said.

In her address to the VOX-Pol conference, the minister said it was "undeniable" the internet had a role in "radicalising individuals to violence."

"Extremism is no longer an abstract problem that happens somewhere else. It's here'" she said.

She also referred to "extreme xenophobia or nationalistic tendency" violent individuals, citing the slaughter of Norwegians by Anders Breivik and the murder of British MP Jo Cox last week.

Greater sharing of intelligence and information by police and security forces was important while not necessarily impinging on privacy and free expression, she said.

She welcomed proposals on information sharing such as the EU Passenger Name Records Directive which allow the examination of air travel reservation records.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section