Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

3:05 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)

It is a seriously important issue. It is fair to say that impacts on nearly all of us in different ways, if we are being honest. It is an issue that impacts people right across our country. It is an issue that particularly impacts children and younger people. There is a level of misogyny and sexism, and there are really serious issues in the context of vile online abuse. People are being targeted by faceless online users who seek to intimate people, silence them, stop them from saying something, get inside their minds and knock them off their stride. I am really concerned about the impact, as I think we all are, that this is having, and not only people who are public representatives. It is okay for us to say it has an impact. Breaking news: politicians are humans. There is also the major impact it can have on young people who are bullied online. Bullying used to be something that took place, as it still can, in a physical way. That was and is horrific, but you would remove yourself from a situation. It is now something that can follow you around. It is something that kids can take home in their schoolbags and their pockets and it will be there with them.

I want to say that the level of nasty and negative comments online is alarming. There has been robust political debate in this country since the foundation of the State. We go at it hammer and tongs in here. I would like to think that we do so a couple of times a week. That is very different, though, from the hateful, nasty and negative comments online. I appeal to people in this country - I know the Deputy and everyone else here does as well - to stop and think before they hit that button to publish horrible comments about another human being. You just do not have to do it. Why are we doing it? Why has this become some sort of norm? We all need to check ourselves, myself included, from time to time. We all need to check ourselves in the context of our language and how we go about our debates. Language is important and words matter.

What is the Government going to do? That is a fair question. Online safety is a key priority. We now finally have a media regulator. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has done very good work in this area. The regulator is called Coimisiún na Meán. At the heart of it is a new online safety framework which can be used to hold platforms to account and which will ensure that we significantly reduce harmful content online. A draft online safety code was published by the commission in May. It is intended that the code will be formally adopted later this year. It is designed to work in conjunction with various laws to ensure that platform supervision and the enforcement of regulations are delivered effectively. In the very brief time available, I note that it sets out the actions that video-sharing platforms, some of which the Deputy has named, such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and others have to take to protect users. It also has the ability to hit people where it works, which is in their pockets.

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