Saturday 19 October 2019

Varadkar wants 'zero tolerance' on terror posts

Leo Varadkar: ‘Terrorists have always used the media’
Leo Varadkar: ‘Terrorists have always used the media’

Cormac McQuinn in Chicago

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said social media companies must have "zero tolerance" towards posts that promote violence and hatred.

He made the remarks in the wake of the slaughter of 50 people in Christchurch - with the attack streamed live on Facebook.

But Mr Varadkar also stopped short of singling out the tech giants for criticism, saying that "terrorists and extremists have always used the media to propagate their views and promote their activities".

He said its the duty of government and the media to "get ahead of that" and the primary responsibility of the social media companies is to take down content that promotes violence and hate as quickly as possible.

Brenton Tarrant (28) appeared before Christchurch District Court and if convicted of the attacks on mosques in New Zealand faces life imprisonment. His alleged attack, live-streamed on Facebook, has sparked renewed concerns over the use of social media to spread hate.

A Facebook representative for Australia and New Zealand has insisted that the company quickly removed the video once police alerted them to it.

The most notorious use of social media by extremists in recent years has been by terror group Isil for spreading propaganda and recruiting brides for its fighters.

The Taoiseach condemned the killings in New Zealand as an "act of terrorism" and "cowardice".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent in Chicago on the last day of his St Patrick's Day visit to the United States, Varadkar said social media companies "should have zero tolerance for anything that promotes violence or hatred".

But he also said the use of media including newspapers and television to spread hate speech "isn't something new" and that now the "technology is different".

He pointed to the so-called IRA 'spectaculars' - bomb attacks in Brian which "they used to like to get on TV".

He added: "There had to be a broadcasting ban at one stage to take the voices of people who were equivocating about violence off our TV screens.

"People who want to propagate hate and want to promote terrorism will use whatever means or media is available to them. And what we have to do both as media and government that regulates media is to get ahead of that."

The Government is planning to create an Online Safety Commissioner with the power to order social media companies to take down harmful content and impose fines if they break the rules. Mr Varadkar said this is undergoing public consultation and the definition of harmful content must be defined in law.

"Of course it would mean things for example like promoting violence and promoting things like eating disorders and so on."

But he added: "No government regulator is going to be able to be as effective as media organisations being responsible themselves."

He rejected any suggestion the Government is too close to tech companies, saying: "I've been very critical of social media companies. In fact I've called on them to take down certain content. Content that I felt was anti-Traveller and I felt that was incitement to violence."

He also said: "I think we have to get the balance right between freedom of speech and protecting people form content that promotes violence, hatred or is untrue."

Sunday Independent

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