Northern Ireland news

Republic's new justice minister urged to regulate Irish-based tech giants

Paul Tweed.

THE Republic's new justice minister has been urged to use her new brief to help regulate Facebook, Twitter and Google.

High profile defamation lawyer Paul Tweed has called on Helen McEntee to set up a committee to examine the regulation of the tech giants, which all use Dublin as the base for their European headquarters.

The Co Down born media lawyer has built a career on representing A-list celebrities and politicians as well as newspapers and publishers. But his work has increasingly focused on online sources.

In a letter to the Fine Gael politician, recently promoted to the justice ministry, Mr Tweed said he continues to be “absolutely frustrated, if not bewildered”, that social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and others are continuing to argue that they are a platform rather than a publisher.

“This argument is all the more absurd given their recent selective actions in terminating or suspending accounts in reaction to public or private lobbying and representation, whereby they are in effect acting as their own court, while my clients struggle to process their claims through the actual legal system, which has been delayed even further by the current lockdown,” he said.

Referring to Facebook's recent appointment of its own ‘oversight board', the lawyer said the social media companies appeared to all intents and purposes to be above the law as it applies to other media outlets, making their own decisions on an ad hoc basis.

“In the meantime, the social networks appear to believe that they are not subject to the defamation and privacy laws that regulate the mainstream media, nor do they come under the ambit of the Press Council or Broadcast Authority of Ireland.

“Against this background, the social media companies are sourcing investigation reports and articles from the mainstream media without financial reimbursement while at the same time taking away their advertising revenue, thereby undermining the very survival of the free press.”

Calling on Ms McEntee to establish a committee “to review and consider all regulatory options as a matter of some urgency”, Mr Tweed said while the economic benefits the tech giants had brought to Ireland cannot be ignored: “They nonetheless should incur a duty to protect citizens and the international community from online attacks, harassment, hate speech and fake news, which can often result in devastating consequences for the victims.”

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