Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage


4:07 pm

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I am well aware that the Minister brought it, at great length, through the Seanad. Having listened in to some of those debates, I will try to avoid the repetition that happened during them and, indeed, in this debate because I only have brief time. I only wish to focus on one area. This legislation is ridiculously welcome. I back it to the hilt. It is long overdue. We will be able to follow from clear case models in other jurisdictions but I have a fear. The Bill is important in that we are providing a legislative framework but will we genuinely be able to see the difference?

When this legislation is passed, will we be able to lose the tag of the wild west when it comes to social media and the scale of the harmful content that is being posted every minute of every day, directly to every Member of this House? I think we all acknowledge, however, that the ladies of this House get it far worse than the men. It reaches every facet of our society, from the 14-year-old child at home, to someone who is on television, to someone who has just had a run-in with another person and is faced with continuous and repeated anonymous abuse and the most disgusting type of content. One post gets taken down and then ten more crop up overnight.

I have said 100 times that I am sick and tired of social media companies that have taken a repeatedly laissez-faireapproach to this. How many times have all of us reported accounts or posts about us, colleagues, family members, friends and constituents only to hear that they do not violate X, Y or Z, when they are some of the most disgusting, vile things that anyone should ever have to see? If someone were to say them on the street, one would be shocked. One would not believe those words could come out of people's mouths. However, hidden behind the veneer of anonymity and a screen in a darkened room late at night, people are prepared to say whatever they want. Sadly, it still continues and too many social media companies are simply checking out when it comes to this area.

How can we have genuine accountability in this space? How can we use this legislation? How can we use the new office of the commissioner to make the Internet and especially social media and messaging platforms a safer place, not just for our children, but for every member and entity in our society? It is all well and good to talk about the hardship and experiences of people who have come to our offices. Some of the people who have come to the Minister's office have come to my office as well. We all know them well. They are not just from the constituency but from various walks of life. I genuinely want this legislation to work.

The scope of the Bill is crucially important but I have a reticence. Perhaps we have all just been burned one too many times. There has to be genuine enforcement to allow that level of accountability. We are only on Second Stage and I listened with interest to Deputy Kelly talk about amendments. Perhaps, in coming back on Report Stage, the Minister might lay out exactly what we can expect to see achieved, not in the general or legislative space, but in this specific place after the legislation is passed. Where can we make these formats safer for ourselves and, crucially, for the constituents we represent?


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