Wednesday, 21 September 2022
Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage
Ciarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source
I will offer a slightly contrarian view in the short time I have. From the dawn of humanity we, as a species, have always sought to communicate with one another. We have reached out, contacted and communicated through whatever means was available to us. From hunter-gatherer conversations around the camp fire, to communicating with Armstrong on the moon and from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, we have always innovated over and again to find new ways to communicate with one another.
Right now, social media, in all of its expressions and forms, is the pinnacle of that expression and desire to connect with one another. It is why my son who lives in Philadelphia can instantly communicate with his friends and family at any time of the day or night. It is why people who are oppressed can organise and mobilise to rise up against their oppressors. We are seeing a perfect example of that in Iran right now, where women are rising up and telling their oppressors they will not be dictated to as to what they can wear in public.
There is much to be protective about with regard to what exists within the social media space. We need to be especially cognisant of that as we move forward to, quite rightly, regulate how social media works and ensure that in working, it works in the best interests of our people, especially our young people. The function of government is, ultimately, to robustly analyse and parse the operation of social media and determine what is good about it.
There are many good and positive aspects to social media but we need to assess where the dangers lie.
Deputy Kelly spoke about misinformation and disinformation. This should be one of the most crucial aspects of this Bill and I congratulate the Minister and her colleagues who have done incredible work in bringing forward legislation that will ultimately position Ireland not alone as a global innovator in technology but as a global innovator in the safe regulation of the use of technology. We saw during the pandemic the serious destabilising power of misinformation and disinformation. We saw lives lost as a result of disinformation. I hope that in establishing the office of the commissioner, the Minister will ensure he or she is adequately resourced not only with respect to funds but also the expertise necessary to tackle misinformation and disinformation head on. Frances Haugen spoke to us in committee about her experience of working in one of the social media companies. She said the level of sophistication directed at the development of the algorithms that essentially allow us to see what the social media companies think we should see and need to see is such that perhaps only ten or 11 people in that social media organisation have the experience, talent and intellect to be able to figure out how they work and operate. The commissioner needs to have similar expertise available to him or her.
I have a final point to make. It may not be important in the context of developing this legislation but it matters to an ongoing collaboration between the Minister's Department and the Department of Education. We need to educate our children in how to navigate this space. If they are to have the skills to be able to distinguish disinformation and misinformation from reality, we need to educate them in doing that.
In Ireland we have been leading innovators in the development of digital technology and we are seen now as a global hub for that. We can equally lead in the area of the regulation of that technology.