Is social media doing enough to combat abusive content?

By David Stapleton

Twitter defends response to harmful content, saying it’s “educating” users rather than banning them.

Twitter has disputed claims it hasn’t done enough to deal with abusive content on its platform after being questioned about racist abuse directed towards a mixed race couple living in Ireland.

Meath-native Fiona Ryan (33), her fiancé Jonathan Mathis (32) and their 22-month-old son Jonah were victims of a torrent of online abuse via Twitter after appearing in an advertising campaign for supermarket chain Lidl.

Harmful tweets were removed by Twitter after being reported by Lidl Ieland and other users, but the situation continued to escalate leading to the family leaving Ireland.

Appearing on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show last Friday, the couple said they made the decision after receiving death threats.

“The situation continued to escalate leading to the family leaving Ireland”

Appearing before an Oireachtas committee yesterday, representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google were questioned by TDs about how they address harmful content on their platforms — the meeting was held as part of a wider discussion to see if there is a need for stricter legislation in this area.

Referring directly to the Ryan family case, Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers asked if just deleting a tweet was a “weak” response.

Karen White, Director of Public Policy at Twitter’s EU headquarters in Dublin, said that while she could not comment about specific individuals, she would sympathise with anyone who has experienced targeted abuse or harassment.

White said that Twitter has robust policies in place with a range of enforcement actions available, and that it had moved towards a system of “educating” abusive users rather than outright banning them.

“Progress in this area in relation to the type of behaviour that you’re talking about is incredibly tough and I think there is a wider societal issue that needs to be addressed here,” she added.


All three of the social media giants present maintained the stance that they are not publishers and it’s up to legislators to decide if there should be stricter regulations put in place.

“Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers asked if just deleting a tweet was a ‘weak’ response”

Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy accused the companies of not accepting that they are publishers in an attempt to make more profits and avoid legal action against them.

Brophy suggested that social media platforms “probably have more impact on the world today than print and broadcast media combined,” yet their current response is to remove the content after the damage is done.

When asked directly about the Christchurch shooting incident, and artificial intelligence failing to detect the footage as it was filmed, Dualta Ó Broin, head of public policy for Facebook Ireland, said they are “learning everything we can to ensure that won’t ever happen again”.

He noted that artificial intelligence I is already successfully used by Facebook to detect and delete harmful content related to terrorism and child sexual abuse.

He acknowledged that Facebook is subject to rules and regulations as it currently stands but suggested that it’s open to stricter regulation and that the Government should tell Facebook where they want them to go further.

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