The Irish Government is to investigate whether social media comments need to be “regulated” or subject to new legislation, according to a report from Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ.
Describing the issue as a very difficult one “but [one that] must be dealt with” the governing party’s Transport and Communications’ committee chair, Tom Hayes TD, will launch an investigation into what, if any, regulations should be put in place to manage social media updates, trolls, and anonymous online comments.
The move comes after the recent deaths of a junior government minister and two sisters by suicide. Online bullying has been directly or partially implicated in the three deaths.
According to the Irish Independent the death of Minister Shane McEntee is a “wake-up call for everybody” for action concerning negative comments aimed at members of the government.
Some government ministers have reported receiving death threats from unknown web users in recent months. The country’s current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) reported last week that he had been subject to death threats after he made negative comments about the Catholic Church.
Mr Hayes has called a special meeting of the committee in January to discuss the issue.
Speaking to RTÉ he said that something must be done about online comments and trolls and that he had also been subject to negative social media comments “like every other [Member of the Irish Parliament].”
Mr Hayes says he also “wants to put standards in place” to “control” the use of social media comments in print and broadcast media.
Ireland has a patchy record of Internet rights management. In December 2012 it was one of few countries which voted not to transfer more control of the Internet to the UN’s ITU, which many feared would lead to increased censorship and it is one of a small number of countries which place fewer than 10 requests to Google for access to or removal of users’ personal data, at a time when other governments are increasing the number and frequency of their requests.
However, Ireland has passed SOPA-like legislation which allows copyright holders to seek court injunctions against service providers and sites such as Facebook and Twitter if they believe their copyrights have been infringed.
The investigation into anonymous online comments comes as German data protection authorities order Facebook to remove its real-name policy that requires users to sign up and use their profiles under their given names. The German authority says that this requirement threatens free speech.
Digital rights organisations in Ireland, such as Digital Rights Ireland, have already said that current Irish laws governing defamation and intimidation apply online and that no new Internet-specific laws are needed.
Whatever the report recommends the Irish government is likely to tread carefully with the issue; the country has spent much time attracting and currently hosts social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, as well as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Dropbox, many of which have been active in opposing increased controls of social media content.